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New security flaw discovered in Android

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November 7, 2013

Internet security researcher Jay Freeman has detailed yet another security flaw in the pre-4.4 version of the Android operating system which, similarly to the notorious APK vulnerability exposed earlier this year, opens a hole that malware can sneak through the OS.

Freeman – whose previous credentials include security analysis of Google Glass and uncovering the dodginess of the “iMessage for Android” app – has written in a blog post that he uncovered the extra security vulnerability in June, but waited until Android 4.4 (with a fix) was shipping.

In brief, the extra APK security vulnerability offered a path for an attacker to exploit the way Android used Zip file headers to verify the software. As Freeman explains, Zip still carries an obsolete of its history around with it: lots of filename redundancy in case files had to be split across multiple floppy disks.

To help a program navigate a file, the header includes a field for filename length – this lets an extractor navigate to where the file data is, by skipping the header.

As Freeman writes, the issue is this-- “The Java code in Android 4.3 and earlier, that extracts the file data to verify it, uses the filename length from the central directory. But the C code that extracts the file to install and execute it uses the filename length in the local header.”

A potential attacker could then take a verified app, add their malware, and modify the header length the C-code loader uses to point not to the legitimate app, but to the malware.

As he says-- “The central directory includes a file offset for each local header, so that once the Java code has finished verifying a file, it can jump directly to the next one, thus avoiding the local header data that would cause it to skip forward incorrectly."

In other words, the imposter data, squeezed between the legitimate file and the next local header, is simply ignored.

The fix in that version of Android is to force Java to look at the same data as the C-loader so that a discrepancy is identified.

In other internet security news

Apple has released the Golden Master (GM) version of its upcoming OS X 10.9 operating system, dubbed Mavericks, along with the GM version 5.0.1 of its integrated development environment, Xcode.

A Golden Master, for those of you in the Microsoft camp who are used to the term Release to Manufacturing (RTM), should be the final version of the operating system, ready to be released to developers.

There was an unsubstantiated, feebly sourced rumor that Apple may hold an event on October 15 to announce new iPads and iMacs, but the new iMacs were released last week, and nothing has yet been heard from Apple about an event on the 15th.

There's also the possibility that Apple will repeat what it did for Mountain Lion and its predecessor, Lion, and announce the release during its conference call following the posting of its fiscal third-quarter results.

That date hasn't yet been announced but last year's Q3 result were posted on October 25, and the previous years' on October 18.

Mavericks was announced at Apple Worldwide Developers Conference this June, and is essentially an under-the-hood tune-up of Mountain Lion, including such battery-saving improvements as timer coalescing, App Nap, Safari Power Saver, and better iTunes HD power efficiency.

Also onboard will be compressed memory, which not only saves power but should also increase performance if the compression algorithm is sufficiently fast.

More information about Mavericks's core technologies can be found in a white paper from Apple entitled "OS X Mavericks: Core Technologies Overview".

But don't expect any major user-interface tweaks in Mavericks since this is the first iteration of OS X that isn't graced with a feline name.

In other operating system news

City of Munich employees using Windows XP are now being offered free upgrades to the open-source Ubuntu operating system ahead of the definite termination of Microsoft support for the OS sometime in the second quarter of 2014.

The city's system admins have distributed no less than 2,000 CDs carrying Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (long term support) to libraries across Munich, for users to borrow, download and install the Linux OS. But this isn't new, the city of Munich had been pondering the idea for a while now.

The Ubuntu operating system is also being made available for download, with a link to the website. The CDs are targeted at those members of the Munich citizenry who are unable or not skilled enough to install Ubuntu via a download, the city said.

The city stressed it would not be supporting converts, though, and you’re on your own once you switch. Munich said it wanted to support customers of Microsoft who’d be affected by the end-of-support deadline for Windows XP next April.

If the pattern of Windows XP’s utilization in Munich reflects the rest of the world, then that would mean about a third of desktop machines are still on Microsoft’s dated operating system.

Windows XP is the world’s second most popular OS after Windows 7, with users showing little sign of budging – despite the fact there will be no more security updates from Microsoft after April 8, 2014.

Source: Jay Freeman.

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