Smartphones hacked through insecure Wi-Fi

News 17 Nov, 2009

Researchers break security in Apple, Nokia, HTC and T-Mobile devices to gain access to email passwords.

Security researchers have successfully performed ‘man-in-the middle-attacks’ (MITM) against four popular smartphones.

A team from SMobile Systems released a paper on how they broke the security provided by SSL on the Nokia N95, HTC tilt, T-Mobile G1 Android and Apple iPhone 3GS through an unsecured Wi-Fi network.

A MITM attack is where a hacker can intercept the communication between two systems by relaying messages between them. The attacker re-routes this traffic, where they can create new connections or kill existing connections. They can also view and replay anything that is private between the machines.

Through tools available to a hacker such as Arpspoof and SSLStrip, the researchers tried to gain access to an email user name and password by breaking a smartphone’s SSL encryption protection using a laptop.

Modern web browsers rely on SSL certificates, but researcher Moxie Marlinspike has already proven that this can be easily broken.

Targeting a smartphone’s mailbox, web browser or email application, the testers were successful in getting email login credentials for all four devices.

The report said: “[It] underscores the fact that the use of public Wi-Fi hotspots should be approached with caution and care should be taken that confidential or private data is adequately encrypted, when it becomes necessary to access such data.”

The SMobile researchers said that such applications which could encrypt smartphone data were scarce, and without it a user would have to make sure that they were using a trusted and secure Wi-Fi network to keep safe.

They also said that enterprise smartphones need security software providing firewall and antivirus capabilities, and they should be treated with the same care as PCs or laptops.