Security Bytes

Mar 21 2012   4:28PM GMT

Mobile device protection: OWASP working on a Top 10 mobile risks list

Robert Westervelt Robert Westervelt Profile: Robert Westervelt


When I arrived home from RSA Conference 2012 after attending a number of panel discussions about mobile device protection, mobile security threats and ways IT teams can build control and visibility into their employee smartphones, I left feeling that many of the session panelists overhyped the risks.

In one session, a few experts warned incessantly about weaponized applications; another had a security expert discussing the skyrocketing mobile malware statistics. It was rather off putting that there was little discussion about how mobile device platforms are built differently than desktop OSes. In fact, a Microsoft network analyst attempted to compare the evolution of iOS and Android to the evolution of Windows. Something, I was told by several security experts, is nearly impossible to do. Security capabilities, including sandboxing, designed to isolate applications from critical processes, are built right into the mobile firmware.

I spoke to Kevin Mahaffey, CTO and founder of Lookout Security, which targets security-conscious consumers with a mobile application that provides antimalware protection, device locate, remote wipe and secure backup features.  Mahaffey was very forthcoming, saying it’s his belief that both Google Android and Apple iOS are the most secure OSes ever built.

His comment, which is no doubt debatable, made me seek out good sources of non-hyped potential risks posed by mobile devices to the enterprise. I may have stumbled upon the beginnings of a good list.

Several security experts active with the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) are developing a list of mobile risks. OWASP, known for its Top 10 Web Application Vulnerabilities list has come up with the Top 10 Mobile Risks list. It was released in September, and has been undergoing an open review period for public feedback. It’s still a work in progress and will undergo an annual revision cycle.

List of Mobile Risks:

1.       Insecure Data Storage

2.       Weak Server-Side Controls

3.       Insufficient Transport Layer Protection

4.       Client-Side Injection

5.       Poor Authorization and Authentication

6.       Improper Session Handling

7.       Security Decisions Via Untrusted Inputs

8.       Side Channel Data Leakage

9.       Broken Cryptography

10.   Sensitive Information Disclosure

The experts who prepared the list: Jack Mannino of nVisium Security, Mike Zusman of Carve Systems and Zach Lanier of the Intrepidus Group, have been actively researching mobile security issues. They produced an OWASP Top 10 Mobile Risks presentation describing and supporting the threats posed by the issues on the list.

Attackers are going to target the data, so insecure data storage on both back-end systems that mobile applications tap into and cached data on the device itself is at risk. Properly implemented server-side controls are essential, according to the presentation.  A lack of encryption of data in transit was cited, reminding me of my earlier post on the NSA’s VPN tunneling requirement and its other mobile security recommendations.   Properly executed authentication is a must and many of the garden variety vulnerabilities (XSS and SQL injection) for desktop software are repeatable for mobile applications. It wraps up with the call for developers to use properly implemented key management as well as tips to make a mobile application more difficult to reverse engineer.

I think the list gets to the heart of the issues without overhyping the threats. I hope it gains more visibility. I’d like to see it referred to more in public discussions about the potential weaknesses in mobile devices.

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