31C3: Great talk on hacking physical/chemical processes

Eric | December 31, 2014

At 31C3, I really enjoyed the talk “Damn Vulnerable Chemical Process”. The talk explains in details what, as a hacker, one can actually do to harm (chemical) processes once one is in the system. Something that we new to me is that if you actually are able to create a DoS attack onto an industrial control switch (as shown here), this not necessarily allows you to DoS the entire plant, but rather allows you to control large parts of the chemical reaction that is taking place. The reason for this the fact that the control loops usually use asynchronous communication: if a controller stops receiving signals from a sensor, it will simply (and silently!) keep reusing the last data received. Carefully controlled by the attacker, this can easily cause havoc. Great talk! And great challenges…

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Yes, banking apps are as secure as other apps, but is it really the banks who are to blame?

Eric | December 30, 2014

Malicious appsAt 31C3 this year, Eric Filiol and Paul Irolla from Laboratoire de Cryptologie et Virologie Opérationnelles presented on (In)security of mobile banking app security. While I appreciate the effort to draw more attention to the insecurity of mobile applications in general, I am afraid that the talk itself was based on quite a few misconceptions, and thus gave a very wrong impression of how app development actually works and about why the code we see is as insecure as it is. Unfortunately, these misconceptions were readily amplified through the mass media (the Zeit, for instance), which is why I think someone with more experience in the field should probably clarify a few things in this respect.

Vulnerabilities shown were not related to banking

First of all, Filiol and Irolla showed no single banking-related vulnerability. What they showed were a series of potential vulnerabilities, none of which they showed to be exploitable. Both authors also mentioned that it was hard to get access to banking staff that could fix the problems that they found. Well, this is not surprising, and both in combination is dangerous.

It’s not the banks who develop banking apps

First of all, why is it not surprising? Well, guess what, it’s not the banks who actually develop banking apps. Banks are known to be in the business of investing and making money, not in the business of software development. In result, 99% of them will outsource the development of such apps completely. While it makes sense to approach the banks directly if a security flaw is found, it’s not surprising that no one there will be able to solve the problem at hand. This problem then gets amplified if researchers such as Filiol and Irolla go public with alleged (!) insecurities for which they have not really shown that they are exploitable. When talking to banks (or any company for that matter) about the insecurity of their software it really helps to have convincing arguments. And also then, responsible disclosure should be preferable to a rushed talk at 31C3.

It’s primarily not the banks who make the mistakes

The second major problem with the talk was that all the alleged vulnerabilities presented were basically not in the apps’ code itself but was in third-party code, and were not even vulnerabilities. The authors complained about “extra functionality” that was present in the apps and which seemed dangerous and not privacy preserving. They showed instances of the RootTools library being used, and instances of the usage of geo-location services by Yandex (in an app by Sberbank). For using RootTools, however, the authors themselves presented some good reasons, and Sberban is a Russian bank, and Yandex is a russian geo-location service. So there should be little surprise that Yandex code is present in such an app. There is also good reason for most banking apps to use geo location information: many of those apps have a functionality to show you the branch closest to your current location.

So the problem is not really that banks would somehow be evil and include malicious code in their apps, it’s instead simply that the companies who develop apps for banks use somewhat sub-optimal ways of achieving the functionalities of those apps. I agree that this is bad, but nevertheless this paints a picture much different from and much more muted than what was presented in the talk.

Ok, but what can we do about it?

To conclude, the primary problem with the apps that Filiol and Irolla actually presented is not that banks are somehow incapable of developing secure apps or even have evil hidden plans. The main problem is one of outsourcing and bad tools for quality control. And this is a problem seen throughout the software development industry. It’s not specific to banking and not specific to mobile apps. To counter this problem, the following is required:

  • Companies outsourcing development need to be given better tools to assess the security of the code they buy.
  • Third-party security experts should be contracted to assure the security of such applications. Tools like CodeInspect can aid such experts.
  • Likewise, app developers should be better aware of what third-party code they actually include in applications, and what the security implications will be.
  • Also, it should be possible to hold app developers liable for code they develop for third parties, in particular when it comes to security issues.

So in result, as much as I myself would like to blame this all on the banks, I don’t think this is a fair assessment. It seems like if anyone is to blame then it is the software development industry (for following bad practices), politics (for not promoting better standards) and researchers, for bragging about alleged vulnerabilities rather than spending their time showing constructive ways to counter them. Plus, there is the press: While writing about vulnerabilities is considered sexy, writing about good security practices seems much less so. So also they are setting the wrong incentives!

Cross-posted from SEEBlog

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CodeInspect says “Hello World”: A new Reverse-Engineering Tool for Android and Java Bytecode

Eric | December 26, 2014

We are very happy to announce a new tool in our toolchain: CodeInspect – A Jimple-based Reverse-Engineering framework for Android and Java applications.

Developing an Android application in an IDE is very convenient since features like code completion, Open Declaration, renaming variables, searching files etc. help the developer a lot. Especially code-debugging is a very important feature in IDEs. Usually, all those features are available for the source code and not for the bytecode, since they support the developer not a reverse-engineer. Well, but all those features would be be also very helpful for reverse-engineering Android or Java applications. This is the reason why we came up with a new reverse-engineering framework that works on the intermediate representation Jimple and supports all the features above and a lot more. In the following we give a detailed description about CodeInspect and its features.

CodeInspect supports as input format a complete Android Application Package (apk), just the Android bytecode (dex-file) or a jar-file. In the following we will describe the different features based on a malicious Android apk.


Framework Overview


The figure above is a screenshot of CodeInspect. As one can see, CodeInspect is based on the Eclipse RCP framework and it is based on projects (apks), also known as workspaces. One can add as many projects as she/he wants. Furthermore, CodeInspect contains different perspectives, different views and a new editor for the intermediate representation. The main perspectives are the “CodeInspect” perspective as shown in the screenshot and the “Debug” perspective which is known from the general Eclipse IDE including views for “Expressions”, “Breakpoints” and “Variables”. Other basic views in the CodeInspect perspective are:

  • Project Explorer: It shows all the important files in a readable format of an apk
  • Outline: Shows all the fields and methods of a specific class. By clicking on an item, one directly jumps to the corresponding line in code.
  • Console: Shows the console output.
  • Problems: Shows all the warning and errors (e.g., compilation errors) that occur in the project.

We give further information and introductory videos here.

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SSE scoring twice at ICSE’15

Eric | December 19, 2014

What a nice early Christmas gift! Today we were notified that both our submissions to ICSE’15 got accepted. Both papers are based on our Android infrastructure. In the paper IccTA: Detecting Inter-Component Privacy Leaks in Android Apps, which came out of our long-standing collaboration with the University of Luxembourg and Penn State, we present a precise approach for Android inter-component analysis. In the paper Mining Apps for Abnormal Usage of Sensitive Data, in joint work with the group of Andreas Zeller (Saarbrücken), we present the first large scale study of using information-flow analysis to identify Android malware. Thanks a lot to all our collaborators for their hard work! It’s been a pleasure working with all of you!

BTW, in addition I will also be speaking at the New Faculty Symposium at ICSE.

Cross-posted from SEEBlog

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A new home for Soot

Eric | December 16, 2014

We have finally completed the move of Soot’s homepage to Github. Soot’s new home makes it easier than ever for everyone to contribute changes not just to the code base but also the website and documentation. Enjoy!

Cross-posted from SEEBlog

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Interested in TrueCrypt security? Talk to us

Eric | December 14, 2014

We have just kicked off a new project financed by the BSI which has the goal to perform a security evaluation of the current TrueCrypt code base. Do you have any particular insights about TrueCrypt security? Do you want to discuss with us more about what the advisory on the TrueCrypt homepage really means? Then meet with me at 31C3 or drop me a line. You can find my contact data and PGP key here.

Cross-posted from SEEBlog

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Wanted: Research assistant in CROSSING project

Eric | December 10, 2014

We are currently looking for a research assistant who supports us in modeling cryptographic API’s with the use of Clafer.

So if you are interested in cryptography and are currently looking for a theses topic or a paid HiWi project, have a look in the attached proposal and contact us!


Cross-posted from SEEBlog

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2015 and 2016 Program committees

Eric | December 9, 2014

For 2015 and 2016, Eric Bodden has been invited to participate, and accepted membership in the Program Committees for the following top conferences:

  • ICSE 2016
  • OOPSLA 2016
  • ECOOP 2015
  • ISSTA 2015
  • ONWARD 2015
  • PLDI 2015
  • RV 2015

Cross-posted from SEEBlog

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