Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Endpoint

11/10/2009
04:31 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Researchers Building Tools To Clean Up Infected Smart Phones Via The Wireless Network

Georgia Tech working on tools for wireless providers to fix compromised phones remotely

Researchers at Georgia Tech are developing tools for cleaning up mobile phones infected with malware remotely over the mobile network -- an approach that would ultimately give wireless providers a less intrusive method of restoring compromised smartphones.

The National Science Foundation recently awarded the Georgia Tech College of Computing a three-year, $450,000 grant for the project to develop tools to advance the security of mobile devices and their networks.

Jonathon Giffin, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech's School of Computer Science, says the project was a natural progression from previous research performed by the university demonstrating how an attacker could take down a cellular network with malicious SMS text messages in a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. "We want to help wireless providers and give them a next step after detection," Giffin says. "There's no action to take right now. They're unwilling to terminate service because that would cause them to lose a customer."

Cellular providers face the same issues with their wireless subscribers as with their broadband Internet customers: not being too invasive when helping an infected machine, nor shutting them off the service altogether.

So today it's mostly up to the user to do something about their compromised smartphones. "Right now the way most people clean up virus-infected phones is to buy a new phone," says Robert Graham, CEO of Errata Security.

Georgia Tech's Giffin says the project will build a "remote repair" option for service providers that lets them disable the malware they detect running on a user's smartphone. "It would involve having a small base of trusted software on the phone," he says, adding that the researchers have even considered a virtual machine approach. "This software [on the handheld] responds to commands coming from the network to help the software take certain actions, [such as to] disable the [malicious] software and report information back to the network to help the network decide what the attack is."

Graham says the trouble with the Georgia Tech approach, however, is it requires the mobile provider to run "arbitrary code" on the user's phone. "That has several flaws," he says. Viruses could likely disable that software, he says, rendering it useless. And such an approach would kill the process of "unlocking" a phone from a particular carrier, for instance, he says.

"It [also] means the FBI could subpoena your carrier in order to send something nasty to your phone," Graham says.

Georgia Tech is working with Android phones in its research, mainly because it's an open-source technology. Giffin says the remote repair could entail disabling some functionality on the phone (think apps) and, in some cases, might require the user to plug the phone into a USB for "some heavyweight analysis to identify the malware if the [service provider] can't identify the malware," he says.

The phone's voice calling and text messaging functions would remain operational during the recovery/repair process, however.

Giffin says the toughest part of the project will be identifying the actual malicious code running on the smartphones. "From a network perspective, you know it's [the phone] behaving badly. But identifying [the source of the problem] can also be a hard problem," he says.

Georgia Tech also plans to build a testbed wireless network on campus to test out the tools. Giffin says the network-based repair approach makes more sense than trying to squeeze desktop security tools onto smartphones. "Moving antivirus onto a mobile device isn't effective," he says. "Mobile devices have constraints like battery use and slower processors. We don't think these tools translate well to the mobile space...and we've seen that antivirus isn't terribly effective on the desktop."

With centralized network locations, the researchers will have a better vantage point to observe attacks and start the recovery process, he says.

The researchers hope to publish a paper on their findings around August of next year, he says.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Commentary
What the FedEx Logo Taught Me About Cybersecurity
Matt Shea, Head of Federal @ MixMode,  6/4/2021
Edge-DRsplash-10-edge-articles
A View From Inside a Deception
Sara Peters, Senior Editor at Dark Reading,  6/2/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
The State of Cybersecurity Incident Response
In this report learn how enterprises are building their incident response teams and processes, how they research potential compromises, how they respond to new breaches, and what tools and processes they use to remediate problems and improve their cyber defenses for the future.
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2021-23394
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-13
The package studio-42/elfinder before 2.1.58 are vulnerable to Remote Code Execution (RCE) via execution of PHP code in a .phar file. NOTE: This only applies if the server parses .phar files as PHP.
CVE-2021-34682
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-12
Receita Federal IRPF 2021 1.7 allows a man-in-the-middle attack against the update feature.
CVE-2021-31811
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-12
In Apache PDFBox, a carefully crafted PDF file can trigger an OutOfMemory-Exception while loading the file. This issue affects Apache PDFBox version 2.0.23 and prior 2.0.x versions.
CVE-2021-31812
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-12
In Apache PDFBox, a carefully crafted PDF file can trigger an infinite loop while loading the file. This issue affects Apache PDFBox version 2.0.23 and prior 2.0.x versions.
CVE-2021-32552
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-12
It was discovered that read_file() in apport/hookutils.py would follow symbolic links or open FIFOs. When this function is used by the openjdk-16 package apport hooks, it could expose private data to other local users.