Sponsored By

Researcher Demonstrates HP TouchPad, Smartphone Hack

Mobile operating system platform vulnerable to XSS, cross-site request forgery

A researcher discovered a zero-day flaw in HP's new TouchPad that lets an attacker inject code into the Contacts application in order to steal information from the device or to build a botnet.

Orlando Barrera -- who late last week published a proof-of-concept for an attack that would exploit this vulnerability in WebOS 3.0 -- says his latest research, which uses a cross-site scripting (XSS) attack to inject code into the app, is related to vulnerabilities he discovered in an earlier version of HP's WebOS. Back in November, Barrera and fellow researcher Daniel Herrera reported their findings that the "Company" field in the Contacts app window was "unsanitized," which allowed them to inject code that ultimately grabbed the Palm's database file with emails, email addresses, contacts, and other information. They demonstrated at an Austin Hackers Association (AHA) meeting in Texas how this would allow an attacker to slip in keyloggers and build a mobile botnet.

"This [new flaw] is a similar vector ... the problem is the underlying WebOS architecture," says Barrera, who disclosed his latest findings at an AHA meeting last week. "Think of WebOS as a giant Web application, [leaving it open to] security issues like cross-site scripting and clickjacking, all of which are potential issues you could find in the entire operation of the Web operating system and all of its apps and third-party apps."

WebOS is vulnerable to cross-site request forgery, as well, he says. "It's a really simple exploit platform," he says. "The only reason it hasn't been exploited before is market share, but now that HP is trying to get into the PC tablet market, it has a potentially larger market share and becomes more of a target."

Barrera says he published the XSS PoC because it shows how simple it is to exploit the platform, and he didn't want to provide clues to "script kiddies" on how to compromise a PDF reader on the device or to perform a buffer overflow attack on it, for example, he says.

"This is an entire OS -- it contains user data like mail, contacts, passwords, contact information, videos," etc., he says. And the lack of input sanitization in some of the fields in the Contacts app leaves it vulnerable to malicious code injection and, ultimately, remote code execution.

"In theory, you could attempt to create a botnet by using this exploit against several WebOS users and injecting a JavaScript backdoor," Barrera says.

An HP spokesperson says it will fix the flaw in the next update to the operating system, that the company encourages people to contact its WebOS security team directly with any security issues, via [email protected] or its website, http://www.hpwebos.com/security.

"Palm takes security very seriously. We have identified the issue and it will be addressed in the next over-the-air update," the spokesperson said in a statement.

To demonstrate how simple an XSS attack would be on an HP TouchPad, Barrera took his 6-year-old daughter with him to Best Buy to try it out on a TouchPad there. The attack could apply to Facebook, LinkedIn, and other apps, which are not "sanitized" in WebOS, he says.

The proof-of-concept for the attack is available here.

Barrera says he has been unsuccessful in getting HP -- and Palm, prior to be being acquired by HP -- to acknowledge the security issues with WebOS. He says he informed Palm of security problems with the "Sync" feature in WebOS version 1.4.1, and it was eventually fixed in WebOS version 2.0, after the HP acquisition. But he was never credited with the vulnerability finds, he says.

And when HP released the SDK for WebOS 3.0 for the TouchPad and Palm Pre, Barrera found security problems within 30 minutes of using the software, he says. He alerted ZDI, the security research arm of HP, which, in turn, informed HP's security team. HP denied any security problems and warned Barrera of nondisclosure agreement (NDA) rules for the SDK version. So he says he waited until the NDA lifted on June 30 and HP released the TouchPad with WebOS 3.0 to disclose his latest finding.

"I had submitted issues I found in WebOS 3.0 as adeveloper to ZDI to make HP aware of them -- one was an email XSS and the other was a test-message XSS," he says. "They fixed them and informed ZDI that there was no issue."

Barrera says he decided to publicize his latest finding to give consumers a heads-up of the potential risks of the products. He says he has no plans to do any further WebOS research.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

About the Author(s)

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Editor-in-Chief 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 Magazine, Virginia Business magazine, and other major media properties. Jackson Higgins was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Cybersecurity Journalists in the US, and named as one of Folio's 2019 Top Women in Media. She began her career as a sports writer in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and earned her BA at William & Mary. Follow her on Twitter @kjhiggins.

Keep up with the latest cybersecurity threats, newly discovered vulnerabilities, data breach information, and emerging trends. Delivered daily or weekly right to your email inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights