Mobile security | countermeasures


The security mechanisms in place to counter the threats described above are presented in this section. They are divided into different categories, as all do not act at the same level, and they range from the management of security by the operating system to the behavioral education of the user. The threats prevented by the various measures are not the same depending on the case. Considering the two cases mentioned above, in the first case one would protect the system from corruption by an application, and in the second case the installation of a suspicious software would be prevented.

Security in operating systems

The first layer of security in a smartphone is the operating system (OS). Beyond needing to handle the usual roles of an operating system (e.g. resource management, scheduling processes) on the device, it must also establish the protocols for introducing external applications and data without introducing risk.[citation needed]

A central paradigm in mobile operating systems is the idea of a sandbox. Since smartphones are currently designed to accommodate many applications, they must have mechanisms to ensure these applications are safe for the phone itself, for other applications and data on the system, and for the user. If a malicious program reaches a mobile device, the vulnerable area presented by the system must be as small as possible. Sandboxing extends this idea to compartmentalize different processes, preventing them from interacting and damaging each other. Based on the history of operating systems, sandboxing has different implementations. For example, where iOS will focus on limiting access to its public API for applications from the App Store by default, Managed Open In allows you to restrict which apps can access which types of data. Android bases its sandboxing on its legacy of Linux and TrustedBSD.

The following points highlight mechanisms implemented in operating systems, especially Android.

Rootkit Detectors
The intrusion of a rootkit in the system is a great danger in the same way as on a computer. It is important to prevent such intrusions, and to be able to detect them as often as possible. Indeed, there is concern that with this type of malicious program, the result could be a partial or complete bypass of the device security, and the acquisition of administrator rights by the attacker. If this happens, then nothing prevents the attacker from studying or disabling the safety features that were circumvented, deploying the applications they want, or disseminating a method of intrusion by a rootkit to a wider audience.[39][40] We can cite, as a defense mechanism, the Chain of trust in iOS. This mechanism relies on the signature of the different applications required to start the operating system, and a certificate signed by Apple. In the event that the signature checks are inconclusive, the device detects this and stops the boot-up.[41] If the Operating System is compromised due to Jailbreaking, root kit detection may not work if it is disabled by the Jailbreak method or software is loaded after Jailbreak disables Rootkit Detection.
Process isolation
Android uses mechanisms of user process isolation inherited from Linux. Each application has a user associated with it, and a tuple (UID, GID). This approach serves as a sandbox: while applications can be malicious, they can not get out of the sandbox reserved for them by their identifiers, and thus cannot interfere with the proper functioning of the system. For example, since it is impossible for a process to end the process of another user, an application can thus not stop the execution of another.[39][42][43][44][45]
File permissions
From the legacy of Linux, there are also filesystem permissions mechanisms. They help with sandboxing: a process can not edit any files it wants. It is therefore not possible to freely corrupt files necessary for the operation of another application or system. Furthermore, in Android there is the method of locking memory permissions. It is not possible to change the permissions of files installed on the SD card from the phone, and consequently it is impossible to install applications.[46][47][48]
Memory Protection
In the same way as on a computer, memory protection prevents privilege escalation. Indeed, if a process managed to reach the area allocated to other processes, it could write in the memory of a process with rights superior to their own, with root in the worst case, and perform actions which are beyond its permissions on the system. It would suffice to insert function calls are authorized by the privileges of the malicious application.[45]
Development through runtime environments
Software is often developed in high-level languages, which can control what is being done by a running program. For example, Java Virtual Machines continuously monitor the actions of the execution threads they manage, monitor and assign resources, and prevent malicious actions. Buffer overflows can be prevented by these controls.[49][50][45]

Security software

Above the operating system security, there is a layer of security software. This layer is composed of individual components to strengthen various vulnerabilities: prevent malware, intrusions, the identification of a user as a human, and user authentication. It contains software components that have learned from their experience with computer security; however, on smartphones, this software must deal with greater constraints (see limitations).

Antivirus and firewall
An antivirus software can be deployed on a device to verify that it is not infected by a known threat, usually by signature detection software that detects malicious executable files. A firewall, meanwhile, can watch over the existing traffic on the network and ensure that a malicious application does not seek to communicate through it. It may equally verify that an installed application does not seek to establish suspicious communication, which may prevent an intrusion attempt.[51][52][53][40]

A mobile antivirus product would scan files and compare them against a database of known mobile malware code signatures.[3]

Visual Notifications
In order to make the user aware of any abnormal actions, such as a call they did not initiate, one can link some functions to a visual notification that is impossible to circumvent. For example, when a call is triggered, the called number should always be displayed. Thus, if a call is triggered by a malicious application, the user can see, and take appropriate action.
Turing test
In the same vein as above, it is important to confirm certain actions by a user decision. The Turing test is used to distinguish between a human and a virtual user, and it often comes as a captcha.
Biometric identification
Another method to use is biometrics.[54] Biometrics is a technique of identifying a person by means of their morphology(by recognition of the eye or face, for example) or their behavior (their signature or way of writing for example). One advantage of using biometric security is that users can avoid having to remember a password or other secret combination to authenticate and prevent malicious users from accessing their device. In a system with strong biometric security, only the primary user can access the smartphone.

Resource monitoring in the smartphone

When an application passes the various security barriers, it can take the actions for which it was designed. When such actions are triggered, the activity of a malicious application can be sometimes detected if one monitors the various resources used on the phone. Depending on the goals of the malware, the consequences of infection are not always the same; all malicious applications are not intended to harm the devices on which they are deployed. The following sections describe different ways to detect suspicious activity.[55]

Some malware is aimed at exhausting the energy resources of the phone. Monitoring the energy consumption of the phone can be a way to detect certain malware applications.[39]
Memory usage
Memory usage is inherent in any application. However, if one finds that a substantial proportion of memory is used by an application, it may be flagged as suspicious.
Network traffic
On a smartphone, many applications are bound to connect via the network, as part of their normal operation. However, an application using a lot of bandwidth can be strongly suspected of attempting to communicate a lot of information, and disseminate data to many other devices. This observation only allows a suspicion, because some legitimate applications can be very resource-intensive in terms of network communications, the best example being streaming video.
One can monitor the activity of various services of a smartphone. During certain moments, some services should not be active, and if one is detected, the application should be suspected. For example, the sending of an SMS when the user is filming video: this communication does not make sense and is suspicious; malware may attempt to send SMS while its activity is masked.[56]

The various points mentioned above are only indications and do not provide certainty about the legitimacy of the activity of an application. However, these criteria can help target suspicious applications, especially if several criteria are combined.

Network surveillance

Network traffic exchanged by phones can be monitored. One can place safeguards in network routing points in order to detect abnormal behavior. As the mobile's use of network protocols is much more constrained than that of a computer, expected network data streams can be predicted (e.g. the protocol for sending an SMS), which permits detection of anomalies in mobile networks.[57]

Spam filters
As is the case with email exchanges, we can detect a spam campaign through means of mobile communications (SMS, MMS). It is therefore possible to detect and minimize this kind of attempt by filters deployed on network infrastructure that is relaying these messages.
Encryption of stored or transmitted information
Because it is always possible that data exchanged can be intercepted, communications, or even information storage, can rely on encryption to prevent a malicious entity from using any data obtained during communications. However, this poses the problem of key exchange for encryption algorithms, which requires a secure channel.
Telecom network monitoring
The networks for SMS and MMS exhibit predictable behavior, and there is not as much liberty compared with what one can do with protocols such as TCP or UDP. This implies that one cannot predict the use made of the common protocols of the web; one might generate very little traffic by consulting simple pages, rarely, or generate heavy traffic by using video streaming. On the other hand, messages exchanged via mobile phone have a framework and a specific model, and the user does not, in a normal case, have the freedom to intervene in the details of these communications. Therefore, if an abnormality is found in the flux of network data in the mobile networks, the potential threat can be quickly detected.

Manufacturer surveillance

In the production and distribution chain for mobile devices, it is the responsibility of manufacturers to ensure that devices are delivered in a basic configuration without vulnerabilities. Most users are not experts and many of them are not aware of the existence of security vulnerabilities, so the device configuration as provided by manufacturers will be retained by many users. Below are listed several points which manufacturers should consider.

Remove debug mode
Phones are sometimes set in a debug mode during manufacturing, but this mode must be disabled before the phone is sold. This mode allows access to different features, not intended for routine use by a user. Due to the speed of development and production, distractions occur and some devices are sold in debug mode. This kind of deployment exposes mobile devices to exploits that utilize this oversight.[58][59]
Default settings
When a smartphone is sold, its default settings must be correct, and not leave security gaps. The default configuration is not always changed, so a good initial setup is essential for users. There are, for example, default configurations that are vulnerable to denial of service attacks.[39][60]
Security audit of apps
Along with smart phones, appstores have emerged. A user finds themselves facing a huge range of applications. This is especially true for providers who manage appstores because they are tasked with examining the apps provided, from different points of view (e.g. security, content). The security audit should be particularly cautious, because if a fault is not detected, the application can spread very quickly within a few days, and infect a significant number of devices.[39]
Detect suspicious applications demanding rights
When installing applications, it is good to warn the user against sets of permissions that, grouped together, seem potentially dangerous, or at least suspicious. Frameworks like such as Kirin, on Android, attempt to detect and prohibit certain sets of permissions.[61]
Revocation procedures
Along with appstores appeared a new feature for mobile apps: remote revocation. First developed by Android, this procedure can remotely and globally uninstall an application, on any device that has it. This means the spread of a malicious application that managed to evade security checks can be immediately stopped when the threat is discovered.[62][63]
Avoid heavily customized systems
Manufacturers are tempted to overlay custom layers on existing operating systems, with the dual purpose of offering customized options and disabling or charging for certain features. This has the dual effect of risking the introduction of new bugs in the system, coupled with an incentive for users to modify the systems to circumvent the manufacturer's restrictions. These systems are rarely as stable and reliable as the original, and may suffer from phishing attempts or other exploits.[citation needed]
Improve software patch processes
New versions of various software components of a smartphone, including operating systems, are regularly published. They correct many flaws over time. Nevertheless, manufacturers often do not deploy these updates to their devices in a timely fashion, and sometimes not at all. Thus, vulnerabilities persist when they could be corrected, and if they are not, since they are known, they are easily exploitable.[61]

User awareness

Much malicious behavior is allowed by the carelessness of the user. Smartphone users were found to ignore security messages during application installation, especially during application selection, checking application reputation, reviews and security and agreement messages.[64] From simply not leaving the device without a password, to precise control of permissions granted to applications added to the smartphone, the user has a large responsibility in the cycle of security: to not be the vector of intrusion. This precaution is especially important if the user is an employee of a company that stores business data on the device. Detailed below are some precautions that a user can take to manage security on a smartphone.

A recent survey by internet security experts BullGuard showed a lack of insight into the rising number of malicious threats affecting mobile phones, with 53% of users claiming that they are unaware of security software for Smartphones. A further 21% argued that such protection was unnecessary, and 42% admitted it hadn't crossed their mind ("Using APA," 2011). These statistics show consumers are not concerned about security risks because they believe it is not a serious problem. The key here is to always remember smartphones are effectively handheld computers and are just as vulnerable.

Being skeptical
A user should not believe everything that may be presented, as some information may be phishing or attempting to distribute a malicious application. It is therefore advisable to check the reputation of the application that they want to buy before actually installing it.[65]
Permissions given to applications
The mass distribution of applications is accompanied by the establishment of different permissions mechanisms for each operating system. It is necessary to clarify these permissions mechanisms to users, as they differ from one system to another, and are not always easy to understand. In addition, it is rarely possible to modify a set of permissions requested by an application if the number of permissions is too great. But this last point is a source of risk because a user can grant rights to an application, far beyond the rights it needs. For example, a note taking application does not require access to the geolocation service. The user must ensure the privileges required by an application during installation and should not accept the installation if requested rights are inconsistent.[66][60][67]
Be careful
Protection of a user's phone through simple gestures and precautions, such as locking the smartphone when it is not in use, not leaving their device unattended, not trusting applications, not storing sensitive data, or encrypting sensitive data that cannot be separated from the device.[68][69]
Disconnect peripheral devices, that are not in use
NIST Guidelines for Managing the Security of Mobile Devices 2013, recommends : Restrict user and application access to hardware, such as the digital camera, GPS, Bluetooth interface, USB interface, and removable storage.

Enable Android Device Encryption

Latest Android Smartphones come with an inbuilt encryption setting for securing all the information saved on your device. It makes it difficult for a hacker to extract and decipher the information in case your device is compromised. Here is how to do it,[70]

Settings – Security – Encrypt Phone + Encrypt SD Card[70]

Ensure data
Smartphones have a significant memory and can carry several gigabytes of data. The user must be careful about what data it carries and whether they should be protected. While it is usually not dramatic if a song is copied, a file containing bank information or business data can be more risky. The user must have the prudence to avoid the transmission of sensitive data on a smartphone, which can be easily stolen. Furthermore, when a user gets rid of a device, they must be sure to remove all personal data first.[71]

These precautions are measures that leave no easy solution to the intrusion of people or malicious applications in a smartphone. If users are careful, many attacks can be defeated, especially phishing and applications seeking only to obtain rights on a device.

Centralized storage of text messages

One form of mobile protection allows companies to control the delivery and storage of text messages, by hosting the messages on a company server, rather than on the sender or receiver's phone. When certain conditions are met, such as an expiration date, the messages are deleted.[72]

Limitations of certain security measures

The security mechanisms mentioned in this article are to a large extent inherited from knowledge and experience with computer security. The elements composing the two device types are similar, and there are common measures that can be used, such as antivirus software and firewalls. However, the implementation of these solutions is not necessarily possible or at least highly constrained within a mobile device. The reason for this difference is the technical resources offered by computers and mobile devices: even though the computing power of smartphones is becoming faster, they have other limitations than their computing power.

  • Single-task system: Some operating systems, including some still commonly used, are single-tasking. Only the foreground task is executed. It is difficult to introduce applications such as antivirus and firewall on such systems, because they could not perform their monitoring while the user is operating the device, when there would be most need of such monitoring.
  • Energy autonomy: A critical one for the use of a smartphone is energy autonomy. It is important that the security mechanisms not consume battery resources, without which the autonomy of devices will be affected dramatically, undermining the effective use of the smartphone.
  • Network Directly related to battery life, network utilization should not be too high. It is indeed one of the most expensive resources, from the point of view of energy consumption. Nonetheless, some calculations may need to be relocated to remote servers in order to preserve the battery. This balance can make implementation of certain intensive computation mechanisms a delicate proposition.[73]

Furthermore, it is common to find that updates exist, or can be developed or deployed, but this is not always done. One can, for example, find a user who does not know that there is a newer version of the operating system compatible with the smartphone, or a user may discover known vulnerabilities that are not corrected until the end of a long development cycle, which allows time to exploit the loopholes.[59]

Next Generation of mobile security

There is expected to be four mobile environments that will make up the security framework:

Rich operating system
In this category will fall traditional Mobile OS like Android, iOS, Symbian OS or Windows Phone. They will provide the traditional functionality and security of an OS to the applications.
Secure Operating System (Secure OS)
A secure kernel which will run in parallel with a fully featured Rich OS, on the same processor core. It will include drivers for the Rich OS ("normal world") to communicate with the secure kernel ("secure world"). The trusted infrastructure could include interfaces like the display or keypad to regions of PCI-E address space and memories.
Trusted Execution Environment (TEE)
Made up of hardware and software. It helps in the control of access rights and houses sensitive applications, which need to be isolated from the Rich OS. It effectively acts as a firewall between the "normal world" and "secure world".
Secure Element (SE)
The SE consists of tamper resistant hardware and associated software or separate isolated hardware. It can provide high levels of security and work in tandem with the TEE. The SE will be mandatory for hosting proximity payment applications or official electronic signatures. SE may connect, disconnect, block peripheral devices and operate separate set of hardware.
Security Applications (SA)
Numerous security applications are available on App Stores providing services of protection from viruses and performing vulnerability assessment.[74]