Tag Archives: Apple Pay

The Android phone vulnerability has been “fixed” – really? How about Android Pay and Google Wallet?

The recently discovered vulnerability in the Android operation system that affected 1 billion smartphone users (corrected to a mere 950 million, according to the phone manufacturers) followed a typical path:
a) The next gaping security hole is discovered by researchers, who alert the manufacturers;
b) The manufacturers make a patch for future buyers;
c) The manufacturers and service providers do nothing to help or even alert the affected users;
d) The researchers lose patience and publicly disclose their discovery of the flaw;
e) The manufacturers report that they “fixed the glitch within 48 hours,” and keep quiet about the customers affected.
The frustrating part of this all too familiar pattern is that it ignores the victims – the customers who already bought their phones. These customers were assured by the manufacturers’ marketing and sales people at the time of purchase that the product (a phone in this case) is very secure, and is equipped with a top-notch security system– so their privacy is assured. Software patches like the one in question are very easy to incorporate into new phones. However, it would cost money to fix the defective products already out there, and this seems deter to the companies from making the fix.
But the most interesting aspect of the situation is not what the manufacturers say, but rather what they don’t say. It should be understood that the vulnerability discovered presents not one problem but two. One is that the phones without the patch can be hacked at some point in the future. The other is that the phones already hacked are under the hackers’ control. So the most important questions is, can that control be reliably taken away from the hacker and returned to the customer? The manufacturers notoriously acknowledge the simple first problem, but quietly ignore the existence of the second, much bigger one.
In practical terms, even if the fix is installed on an affected phone, the real question is: does it neutralize the effect of the hack? In other words, if my phone was hacked, the perpetrators have established control over it. Does the fix eliminate that control? A pretty safe bet here is that it does not. The fix just prevents another hack using the same method. But in that case, what’s my phone worth now when I no longer can assume my privacy, or security of financial transactions? It looks like the manufacturers may not be complying with the implied warranty laws. At the very least this is a priority research problem for our increasingly numerous legal experts.
Every aspect of these issues is fast approaching a real-world test.– especially urgently given the proliferation of smartphone-based payment systems like Apple Pay and Google Wallet.

Apple Pay Security—a Token or for Real?

As usual Apple created a good deal of hype around its new product rollout, this time with the iPhone 6, with its proposed Apple Pay system drawing the most attention. Apple Pay offers much improved convenience at the checkout counter, though its claimed applicability to phone call orders and interoperability with other methods of payment have not yet been publicly explained. Those issues notwithstanding, Apple Pay could be a major step forward in the technology of retail banking transactions.

The main claim and the main attraction of the Apple Pay system is its security. Characteristically and perfectly understandably Apple was a little short on describing the security functionality. The particulars of these security arrangements are probably the most important aspect of the whole iPhone 6 exercise, and a lot of cybersecurity experts are waiting for the details to render a real judgment on the system.

Given its historical record Apple is unlikely to disclose the Apple Pay algorithm, though that’s not really justified by any security consideration. Only the implementational details of cybersecurity systems should be secret, for both security and competitive proprietary reasons. But the underlying algorithm should be published and analyzed, as is usually done for most crypto systems. In the evaluation of cybersecurity systems it’s always assumed that the algorithm is known to the attackers.

But we’ll know the Apple Pay algorithm anyway as soon as the system is available in the real world. The algorithm can be determined with a couple of simple experiments at the point of sale (POS). If the algorithm provides for a full change of cyber identity for the buyer and the purchase card with every transaction, it would be extremely difficult, if not practically impossible, to defeat. If, however, Apple Pay turns out to be just another run-of-the-mill token system, it would only be a marginal improvement over existing systems, only protecting the point of sale. Such a system  can be hacked in several different ways, perhaps by hacking it through Apple servers, which has proven to be a task of only moderate difficulty for a competent hacker.

So, we need to wait and see what system Apple came up with – the major breakthrough they claim, or just a marginal step forward.