Android apps don't need permission to see your data

Unauthorised apps can access certain types of data without any permissions at all.

Android critics often point to the operating system's lack of control over apps as a threat to user security, and this is yet again proving to be true.

Security firm Leviathan Security has discovered that apps with no permissions to access system resources are still able to view sensitive data without the user's knowledge. Worse yet, through a few extra steps, a malicious app might be able to get that data off of the device using the Web browser.

According to Leviathan Security, at least three types of information can be accessed by any app, regardless of its permissions. These types of info include files on external storage, files stored by individual apps, and device information.

Android allows any app to read all files on external storage by default. This might sound harmless, but Leviathan researcher Paul Brodeur has discovered that some apps store sensitive data--such as network access information--to the device's SD card.

Apps can also fetch a list of installed applications on the device, and, from there, scan for files associated with those apps. iOS developers have recently come under fire for failing to secure data--Facebook, Dropbox and others have been found to be storing authentication information in plain text--and there are likely many Android apps with equally poor security.

Finally, Brodeur discovered that all apps could access basic device information. While an app is not able to read a device's unique identification number without the correct permissions, other identifiable information is easily accessible.

Getting the data off the device is not straightforward, as network access is restricted unless the application has the correct permissions. Still, there is a way for attackers to surreptitiously steal your data.

"In my tests, I found that the app is able to launch the browser even after it has lost focus, allowing for transmission of large amounts of data by creating successive browser calls," Brodeur writes. In plain English, this means successive requests to open the browser and send strings of data can be done entirely in the background, so the victim never knows it's even happening.

For more tech news and commentary, follow Ed on Twitter at @edoswald, on Facebook, or on Google+.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Ed Oswald

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?