Android apps downloaded over 6.3 billion times still vulnerable to FREAK

Researchers from FireEye claim the security risks posed by the FREAK flaw are far from over.

A total of 1,228 popular Android apps found in the Google Play store are still vulnerable to a FREAK attack, FireEye says.

Research published on Tuesday by the firm's security team disclosed just how vulnerable both Android and iOS apps still are to the FREAK bug.

FREAK is a cryptographic weakness which permits attackers to force data traveling between a vulnerable website or operating system to servers that use weak encryption protocols. If combined with a man-in-the-middle attack (MITM), the data could theoretically be intercepted and cracked as the user is unwittingly using a lower level of encryption than believed.

According to the team, as of March 4, both of the latest Android and iOS platforms are vulnerable to the security issue. As FREAK is both a platform vulnerability and an app vulnerability, even after Google and Apple issued patches, apps may still be vulnerable when connecting to servers which accept RSA_EXPORT cipher suites.

FireEye says this is why some iOS apps are vulnerable even after Apple patched the FREAK vulnerability in iOS earlier this month.

Researchers Yulong Zhang, Hui Xue, Tao Wei and Zhaofeng Chen crawled through the Google Play app store to determine how severe the FREAK vulnerability still could be. The team scanned a total of 10,985 popular apps with over one million downloads each -- and discovered that 11.2 percent of them, 1,228 apps in total, are still vulnerable to the bug, as they "use a vulnerable OpenSSL library to connect to vulnerable HTTPS servers."

The 1,228 apps in question have been downloaded over 6.3 billion times. In total, 664 of these apps use Android's bundled OpenSSL library and 554 rely on custom libraries.

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When it comes to iOS apps, the security researchers claim that 771 out of 14,079 -- 5.5 percent -- of popular iOS apps connect to vulnerable services and, therefore, are vulnerable to FREAK attacks on iOS versions below 8.2, which has been patched. In addition, seven of these 771 apps have their own vulnerable versions of OpenSSL and they remain vulnerable on iOS 8.2.

"An attacker may launch a FREAK attack using man-in-the-middle (MITM) techniques to intercept and modify the encrypted traffic between the mobile app and backend server. The attacker can do this using well-known techniques such as ARP spoofing or DNS hijacking. Without necessarily breaking the encryption in real time, the attacker can record weakly encrypted network traffic, decrypt it and access the sensitive information inside," the team says.

Vulnerable app rates sorted by security and privacy-sensitive categories are shown below.

Number of apps vulnerable to FREAK
Number of Android app downloads (logarithmic scale) vulnerable to FREAK

FireEye says that an attacker could use a FREAK attack on a shopping app to steal login credentials and credit card information. In addition, "medical apps, productivity apps and finance apps," may also be vulnerable.


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