Android And iOS Crypto Keys Under Threat Of Getting Stolen

According to a new research, digital data, mostly financial, is under threat on Android and iOS phones since the crypto keys used with Bitcoin wallets and Apple Pay can be stolen. A cryptographic (crypto) key is the core part of cryptographic operations used commonly in digital asset transactions where a variable data is provided as input to a cryptographic algorithm to execute a specific operation.

The non-invasive attack can be conducted by merely placing a magnetic probe in the proximity of the device or using a power tap on the USB charging cable. It does not require any malicious software to be installed on the device or opening the device’s case to interfere with hardware. The attack may seem as a minor one, however, a stolen crypto key could result in the loss of the financial data of the victim. The researchers made this statement in their blog post about the topic:

“An attacker can measure these physical effects using a $2 magnetic probe held in proximity to the device, or an improvised USB adapter connected to the phone’s USB cable, and a USB sound card. Using only such measurements, one can fully extract secret signing keys.”

The attacked cryptographic algorithm, in this case, is the ECDSA (Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm), which is a common digital signature algorithm used in many applications, such as Bitcoin wallets, Apple Pay and many other mobile payment methods that rely on vulnerable versions of OpenSSL, CoreBitcoin or iOS. Users can avoid the hack by better caring of their devices; keeping their phones and charging cables at safe places when they can see them.

The researchers managed to fully extract the key on a Sony-Ericsson Xperia X10 Phone, which was running Android. The researchers believe that such an attack could be easily done by a hacker, a recently published research by a separate team proves the same; they found a similar side-channel vulnerability in Android’s version of the BouncyCastle crypto library.

Here are the highly vulnerable points highlighted by the research:

  • Older versions of iOS—specifically, 7.1.2 through 8.3
  • The current 9.x version of iOS may not be at risk in general but when using vulnerable apps they can be attacked
  • CoreBitcoin is vulnerable which is used to protect Bitcoin wallets on iPhones and iPads
  • 1.0.x and 1.1.x versions of the OpenSSL code library are also susceptible except when compiled for x-86-64 processors with a non-default option selected or when running a special option available for ARM CPUs
  • Android’s version of BouncyCastle

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