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Title:Analyzing & designing the security of shared resources on smartphone operating systems
Author(s):Demetriou, Soteris
Director of Research:Gunter, Carl A.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Gunter, Carl A.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Wang, XiaoFeng; Nahrstedt, Klara; Bates, Adam M.
Department / Program:Computer Science
Discipline:Computer Science
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
access control
operating system
internet of things
Abstract:Smartphone penetration surpassed 80% in the US and nears 70% in Western Europe. In fact, smartphones became the de facto devices users leverage to manage personal information and access external data and other connected devices on a daily basis. To support such multi-faceted functionality, smartphones are designed with a multi-process architecture, which enables third-party developers to build smartphone applications which can utilize smartphone internal and external resources to offer creative utility to users. Unfortunately, such third-party programs can exploit security inefficiencies in smartphone operating systems to gain unauthorized access to available resources, compromising the confidentiality of rich, highly sensitive user data. The smartphone ecosystem, is designed such that users can readily install and replace applications on their smartphones. This facilitates users’ efforts in customizing the capabilities of their smartphones tailored to their needs. Statistics report an increasing number of available smartphone applications— in 2017 there were approximately 3.5 million third-party apps on the official application store of the most popular smartphone platform. In addition we expect users to have approximately 95 such applications installed on their smartphones at any given point. However, mobile apps are developed by untrusted sources. On Android—which enjoys 80% of the smartphone OS market share—application developers are identified based on self-sign certificates. Thus there is no good way of holding a developer accountable for a malicious behavior. This creates an issue of multi-tenancy on smartphones where principals from diverse untrusted sources share internal and external smartphone resources. Smartphone OSs rely on traditional operating system process isolation strategies to confine untrusted third-party applications. However this approach is insufficient because incidental seemingly harmless resources can be utilized by untrusted tenants as side-channels to bypass the process boundaries. Smartphones also introduced a permission model to allow their users to govern third-party application access to system resources (such as camera, microphone and location functionality). However, this permission model is both coarse-grained and does not distinguish whether a permission has been declared by a trusted or an untrusted principal. This allows malicious applications to perform privilege escalation attacks on the mobile platform. To make things worse, applications might include third- party libraries, for advertising or common recognition tasks. Such libraries share the process address space with their host apps and as such can inherit all the privileges the host app does. Identifying and mitigating these problems on smartphones is not a trivial process. Manual analysis on its own of all mobile apps is cumbersome and impractical, code analysis techniques suffer from scalability and coverage issues, ad-hoc approaches are impractical and susceptible to mistakes, while sometimes vulnerabilities are well hidden at the interplays between smartphone tenants and resources. In this work I follow an analytical approach to discover major security and privacy issues on smartphone platforms. I utilize the Android OS as a use case, because of its open-source nature but also its popularity. In particular I focus on the multi-tenancy characteristic of smartphones and identify the re- sources each tenant within a process, across processes and across devices can access. I design analytical tools to automate the discovery process, attacks to better understand the adversary models, and introduce design changes to the participating systems to enable robust fine-grained access control of resources. My approach revealed a new understanding of the threats introduced from third-party libraries within an application process; it revealed new capabilities of the mobile application adversary exploiting shared filesystem and permission resources; and shows how a mobile app adversary can exploit shared communication mediums to compromise the confidentiality of the data collected by external devices (e.g. fitness and medical accessories, NFC tags etc.). Moreover, I show how we can eradicate these problems following an architectural design approach to introduce backward-compatible, effective and efficient modifications in operating systems to achieve fine-grained application access to shared resources. My work has let to security changes in the official release of Android by Google.
Issue Date:2018-04-18
Rights Information:Copyright 2018 Soteris Demetriou
Date Available in IDEALS:2018-09-04
Date Deposited:2018-05

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