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Risk

2/10/2010
09:07 AM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
Commentary
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Blackberry Users Vulnerable to Applications That Spy

In early December news broke about a security researcher who developed Spyphone, an application that uses the public iPhone API to grab data from other iPhone applications. This week a security researcher demonstrated a similar application that snoops on the Blackberry.

In early December news broke about a security researcher who developed Spyphone, an application that uses the public iPhone API to grab data from other iPhone applications. This week a security researcher demonstrated a similar application that snoops on the Blackberry.Tyler Shields, senior researcher for the application security company Veracode, gave a presentation at ShmooCon 2010 earlier this week that may cause Blackberry owners to double-check what applications they choose to download and install.

Shields demonstrated, using only RIM-provided APIs and without leveraging any Blackberry vulnerabilities or software exploits, how an application can be created to pry into just about anything a cyber-snoop would want: eavesdrop on discussions taking place around the phone, grab phone location data, tap text messages, grab contacts, etc.

The only challenge for the attacker would be enticing the user to download and install the application. Frankly, that's not too difficult for attackers to do, generally.

Plenty of people could be tricked into installing a utility, or a game, not knowing they also downloaded an app that could be used to spy on them. However, it is much more difficult to launch targeted attacks using such spyware. It is much easier to get many users to download an application, than it is to get someone specific to download a specific application (at least without drawing suspicion).

Veracode and Shields also released the source code to what it calls txsBBSpy.

The capabilities sound eerily familiar to that iPhone spyware proof-of-concept we mentioned earlier, and wrote about here.

I can't predict when, but now that smartphones are growing near ubiquitous in wealthy nations, it's just a matter of time before cybercriminals start considering these platforms as serious targets.

In response to Shield's presentation, RIM issued the statement below:

Applications containing spyware cannot be installed on a BlackBerry smartphone without the user's explicit consent unless of course someone else gains physical possession of the user's device along with knowledge of any enabled password. Although it is important for users of all types of computers and mobile devices to always exercise caution before downloading apps, it is also important to understand the context in which the risk of this spyware was described at the conference on Sunday and that the spyware app cannot simply install itself stealthily on to a user's device. Further, a user can review and confirm the list of installed apps on their device by looking in the "Options" area at any time.

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