Researchers have discovered a crucial security problem in Google Play, the official Android app store where millions of users of Android, the most popular mobile platform, get their apps.
Jason Nieh, professor of computer science at Columbia Engineering, said Google Play has more than one million apps and over 50 billion app downloads, but no one reviews what gets put into Google Play-anyone can get a 25-dollar-account and upload whatever they want. Very little is known about what's there at an aggregate level.
He said given the huge popularity of Google Play and the potential risks to millions of users, we thought it was important to take a close look at Google Play content.
Nieh and PhD candidate Nicolas Viennot's paper is the first to make a large-scale measurement of the huge Google Play marketplace. To do this, they developed PlayDrone, a tool that uses various hacking techniques to circumvent Google security to successfully download Google Play apps and recover their sources.
They discovered all kinds of new information about the content in Google Play, including a critical security problem: developers often store their secret keys in their apps software, similar to usernames/passwords info, and these can be then used by anyone to maliciously steal user data or resources from service providers such as Amazon and Facebook.
These vulnerabilities can affect users even if they are not actively running the Android apps. Nieh notes that even "Top Developers," designated by the Google Play team as the best developers on Google Play , included these vulnerabilities in their apps.
In fact, Nieh adds, developers are already receiving notifications from Google to fix their apps and remove the secret keys.