Vulnerabilities / Threats
11/5/2010
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Vulnerabilities Found In Banking Apps

Security holes in Android and iPhone apps from PayPal, Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo, and more could give attackers access to financial data.

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Smartphone banking applications from Bank of America, Chase, PayPal, TD Ameritrade, USAA and Wells Fargo have bugs that an attacker could exploit to steal people's personal financial information. So said digital forensics firm viaForensics in a security warning released Thursday. The security flaw was not found in the firm's testing of a Vanguard Group smartphone banking app.

"We encountered a surprising and increasing amount of highly sensitive financial and identity information on smartphones," said Andrew Hoog, CIO of viaForensics. "This information, uncovered on both Apple iPhones and Google Android devices, would only benefit cyber criminals and identity thieves. While Google and Apple each approach the app review process differently, neither approach has prevented insecure applications from being installed."

Hoog said that his company began "communicating and coordinating with the financial institutions to eliminate the flaws" on Monday, and that the vulnerability announcement reflects how the applications performed as of Wednesday. "Since that time, several of the institutions have released new versions and we will post updated findings shortly."

Major vulnerabilities encountered included some applications failing to validate security certificates, leaving them vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. Such attacks could recover "full user name, password, and account data," said Hoog. Other applications failed to encrypt transmitted passwords, sending them as clear text. Others inappropriately "saved your data to the smartphone, allowing recovery of all financial information viewed in the application."

One organization that moved to quickly retool its mobile application was PayPal, a division of eBay. On Thursday, PayPal spokeswoman Amanda Pires told the Wall Street Journal that PayPal had submitted a new version of its application to the Apple App Store for review on Tuesday evening, and that there was no evidence of attackers having exploited the vulnerability. "To my knowledge it has not affected anybody," she said. PayPal also said it would fully reimburse anyone who lost money as a result of the vulnerability. The affected PayPal application had been downloaded 4 million times.

The bug disclosure comes on the heels of PayPal's announcement last week that it expects to process more than $700 million in mobile payments by the end of the year.

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