Privacy-Preserving Smart Input with Gboard

Posted by Yang Lu, Software Engineer, Angana Ghosh, Group Product Manager, and Xu Liu, Director of Engineering, Gboard team

Google Keyboard (a.k.a Gboard) has a critical mission to provide frictionless input on Android to empower users to communicate accurately and express themselves effortlessly. In order to accomplish this mission, Gboard must also protect users’ private and sensitive data. Nothing users type is sent to Google servers. We recently launched privacy-preserving input by further advancing the latest federated technologies. In Android 11, Gboard also launched the contextual input suggestion experience by integrating on-device smarts into the user’s daily communication in a privacy-preserving way.

Before Android 11, input suggestions were surfaced to users in several different places. In Android 11, Gboard launched a consistent and coordinated approach to access contextual input suggestions. For the first time, we’ve brought Smart Replies to the keyboard suggestions – powered by system intelligence running entirely on device. The smart input suggestions are rendered with a transparent layer on top of Gboard’s suggestion strip. This structure maintains the trust boundaries between the Android platform and Gboard, meaning sensitive personal content cannot be not accessed by Gboard. The suggestions are only sent to the app after the user taps to accept them.

For instance, when a user receives the message “Have a virtual coffee at 5pm?” in Whatsapp, on-device system intelligence predicts smart text and emoji replies “Sounds great!” and “👍”. Android system intelligence can see the incoming message but Gboard cannot. In Android 11, these Smart Replies are rendered by the Android platform on Gboard’s suggestion strip as a transparent layer. The suggested reply is generated by the system intelligence. When the user taps the suggestion, Android platform sends it to the input field directly. If the user doesn’t tap the suggestion, gBoard and the app cannot see it. In this way, Android and Gboard surface the best of Google smarts whilst keeping users’ data private: none of their data goes to any app, including the keyboard, unless they’ve tapped a suggestion.

Additionally, federated learning has enabled Gboard to train intelligent input models across many devices while keeping everything individual users type on their device. Today, the emoji is as common as punctuation – and have become the way for our users to express themselves in messaging. Our users want a way to have fresh and diversified emojis to better express their thoughts in messaging apps. Recently, we launched new on-device transformer models that are fine-tuned with federated learning in Gboard, to produce more contextual emoji predictions for English, Spanish and Portuguese.

Furthermore, following the success of privacy-preserving machine learning techniques, Gboard continues to leverage federated analytics to understand how Gboard is used from decentralized data. What we’ve learned from privacy-preserving analysis has let us make better decisions in our product.

When a user shares an emoji in a conversation, their phone keeps an ongoing count of which emojis are used. Later, when the phone is idle, plugged in, and connected to WiFi, Google’s federated analytics server invites the device to join a “round” of federated analytics data computation with hundreds of other participating phones. Every device involved in one round will compute the emoji share frequency, encrypt the result and send it a federated analytics server. Although the server can’t decrypt the data individually, the final tally of total emoji counts can be decrypted when combining encrypted data across devices. The aggregated data shows that the most popular emoji is 😂 in Whatsapp, 😭 in Roblox(gaming), and ✔ in Google Docs. Emoji 😷 moved up from 119th to 42nd in terms of frequency during COVID-19.

Gboard always has a strong commitment to Google’s Privacy Principles. Gboard strives to build privacy-preserving effortless input products for users to freely express their thoughts in 900+ languages while safeguarding user data. We will keep pushing the state of the art in smart input technologies on Android while safeguarding user data. Stay tuned!

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New Password Protections (and more!) in Chrome

Posted by AbdelKarim Mardini, Senior Product Manager, Chrome

Passwords are often the first line of defense for our digital lives. Today, we’re improving password security on both Android and iOS devices by telling you if the passwords you’ve asked Chrome to remember have been compromised, and if so, how to fix them.

To check whether you have any compromised passwords, Chrome sends a copy of your usernames and passwords to Google using a special form of encryption. This lets Google check them against lists of credentials known to be compromised, but Google cannot derive your username or password from this encrypted copy.

We notify you when you have compromised passwords on websites, but it can be time-consuming to go find the relevant form to change your password. To help, we’re adding support for “.well-known/change-password” URLs that let Chrome take users directly to the right “change password” form after they’ve been alerted that their password has been compromised.

Along with these improvements, Chrome is also bringing Safety Check to mobile. In our next release, we will launch Safety Check on iOS and Android, which includes checking for compromised passwords, telling you if Safe Browsing is enabled, and whether the version of Chrome you are running is updated with the latest security protections. You will also be able to use Chrome on iOS to autofill saved login details into other apps or browsers.

In Chrome 86 we’ll also be launching a number of additional features to improve user security, including:

Enhanced Safe Browsing for Android

Earlier this year, we launched Enhanced Safe Browsing for desktop, which gives Chrome users the option of more advanced security protections.

When you turn on Enhanced Safe Browsing, Chrome can proactively protect you against phishing, malware, and other dangerous sites by sharing real-time data with Google’s Safe Browsing service. Among our users who have enabled checking websites and downloads in real time, our predictive phishing protections see a roughly 20% drop in users typing their passwords into phishing sites.

Improvements to password filling on iOS

We recently launched Touch-to-fill for passwords on Android to prevent phishing attacks. To improve security on iOS too, we’re introducing a biometric authentication step before autofilling passwords. On iOS, you’ll now be able to authenticate using Face ID, Touch ID, or your phone passcode. Additionally, Chrome Password Manager allows you to autofill saved passwords into iOS apps or browsers if you enable Chrome autofill in Settings.

Mixed form warnings and download blocking

Secure HTTPS pages may sometimes still have non-secure features. Earlier this year, Chrome began securing and blocking what’s known as “mixed content”, when secure pages incorporate insecure content. But there are still other ways that HTTPS pages can create security risks for users, such as offering downloads over non-secure links, or using forms that don’t submit data securely.

To better protect users from these threats, Chrome 86 is introducing mixed form warnings on desktop and Android to alert and warn users before submitting a non-secure form that’s embedded in an HTTPS page.

Additionally, Chrome 86 will block or warn on some insecure downloads initiated by secure pages. Currently, this change affects commonly abused file types, but eventually secure pages will only be able to initiate secure downloads of any type. For more details, see Chrome’s plan to gradually block mixed downloads altogether

We encourage developers to update their forms and downloads to use secure connections for the safety and privacy of their users.

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Announcing the launch of the Android Partner Vulnerability Initiative

Posted by Kylie McRoberts, Program Manager and Alec Guertin, Security Engineer

Android graphic

Google’s Android Security & Privacy team has launched the Android Partner Vulnerability Initiative (APVI) to manage security issues specific to Android OEMs. The APVI is designed to drive remediation and provide transparency to users about issues we have discovered at Google that affect device models shipped by Android partners.

Another layer of security

Android incorporates industry-leading security features and every day we work with developers and device implementers to keep the Android platform and ecosystem safe. As part of that effort, we have a range of existing programs to enable security researchers to report security issues they have found. For example, you can report vulnerabilities in Android code via the Android Security Rewards Program (ASR), and vulnerabilities in popular third-party Android apps through the Google Play Security Rewards Program. Google releases ASR reports in Android Open Source Project (AOSP) based code through the Android Security Bulletins (ASB). These reports are issues that could impact all Android based devices. All Android partners must adopt ASB changes in order to declare the current month’s Android security patch level (SPL). But until recently, we didn’t have a clear way to process Google-discovered security issues outside of AOSP code that are unique to a much smaller set of specific Android OEMs. The APVI aims to close this gap, adding another layer of security for this targeted set of Android OEMs.

Improving Android OEM device security

The APVI covers Google-discovered issues that could potentially affect the security posture of an Android device or its user and is aligned to ISO/IEC 29147:2018 Information technology — Security techniques — Vulnerability disclosure recommendations. The initiative covers a wide range of issues impacting device code that is not serviced or maintained by Google (these are handled by the Android Security Bulletins).

Protecting Android users

The APVI has already processed a number of security issues, improving user protection against permissions bypasses, execution of code in the kernel, credential leaks and generation of unencrypted backups. Below are a few examples of what we’ve found, the impact and OEM remediation efforts.

Permission Bypass

In some versions of a third-party pre-installed over-the-air (OTA) update solution, a custom system service in the Android framework exposed privileged APIs directly to the OTA app. The service ran as the system user and did not require any permissions to access, instead checking for knowledge of a hardcoded password. The operations available varied across versions, but always allowed access to sensitive APIs, such as silently installing/uninstalling APKs, enabling/disabling apps and granting app permissions. This service appeared in the code base for many device builds across many OEMs, however it wasn’t always registered or exposed to apps. We’ve worked with impacted OEMs to make them aware of this security issue and provided guidance on how to remove or disable the affected code.

Credential Leak

A popular web browser pre-installed on many devices included a built-in password manager for sites visited by the user. The interface for this feature was exposed to WebView through JavaScript loaded in the context of each web page. A malicious site could have accessed the full contents of the user’s credential store. The credentials are encrypted at rest, but used a weak algorithm (DES) and a known, hardcoded key. This issue was reported to the developer and updates for the app were issued to users.

Overly-Privileged Apps

The checkUidPermission method in the PackageManagerService class was modified in the framework code for some devices to allow special permissions access to some apps. In one version, the method granted apps with the shared user ID com.google.uid.shared any permission they requested and apps signed with the same key as the com.google.android.gsf package any permission in their manifest. Another version of the modification allowed apps matching a list of package names and signatures to pass runtime permission checks even if the permission was not in their manifest. These issues have been fixed by the OEMs.

More information

Keep an eye out at https://bugs.chromium.org/p/apvi/ for future disclosures of Google-discovered security issues under this program, or find more information there on issues that have already been disclosed.

Acknowledgements: Scott Roberts, Shailesh Saini and Łukasz Siewierski, Android Security and Privacy Team

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Lockscreen and Authentication Improvements in Android 11

Posted by Haining Chen, Vishwath Mohan, Kevin Chyn and Liz Louis, Android Security Team
[Cross-posted from the Android Developers Blog]

As phones become faster and smarter, they play increasingly important roles in our lives, functioning as our extended memory, our connection to the world at large, and often the primary interface for communication with friends, family, and wider communities. It is only natural that as part of this evolution, we’ve come to entrust our phones with our most private information, and in many ways treat them as extensions of our digital and physical identities.

This trust is paramount to the Android Security team. The team focuses on ensuring that Android devices respect the privacy and sensitivity of user data. A fundamental aspect of this work centers around the lockscreen, which acts as the proverbial front door to our devices. After all, the lockscreen ensures that only the intended user(s) of a device can access their private data.

This blog post outlines recent improvements around how users interact with the lockscreen on Android devices and more generally with authentication. In particular, we focus on two categories of authentication that present both immense potential as well as potentially immense risk if not designed well: biometrics and environmental modalities.

The tiered authentication model

Before getting into the details of lockscreen and authentication improvements, we first want to establish some context to help relate these improvements to each other. A good way to envision these changes is to fit them into the framework of the tiered authentication model, a conceptual classification of all the different authentication modalities on Android, how they relate to each other, and how they are constrained based on this classification.

The model itself is fairly simple, classifying authentication modalities into three buckets of decreasing levels of security and commensurately increasing constraints. The primary tier is the least constrained in the sense that users only need to re-enter a primary modality under certain situations (for example, after each boot or every 72 hours) in order to use its capability. The secondary and tertiary tiers are more constrained because they cannot be set up and used without having a primary modality enrolled first and they have more constraints further restricting their capabilities.

  1. Primary Tier – Knowledge Factor: The first tier consists of modalities that rely on knowledge factors, or something the user knows, for example, a PIN, pattern, or password. Good high-entropy knowledge factors, such as complex passwords that are hard to guess, offer the highest potential guarantee of identity.

    Knowledge factors are especially useful on Android becauses devices offer hardware backed brute-force protection with exponential-backoff, meaning Android devices prevent attackers from repeatedly guessing a PIN, pattern, or password by having hardware backed timeouts after every 5 incorrect attempts. Knowledge factors also confer additional benefits to all users that use them, such as File Based Encryption (FBE) and encrypted device backup.

  1. Secondary Tier – Biometrics: The second tier consists primarily of biometrics, or something the user is. Face or fingerprint based authentications are examples of secondary authentication modalities. Biometrics offer a more convenient but potentially less secure way of confirming your identity with a device.

We will delve into Android biometrics in the next section.

  1. The Tertiary Tier – Environmental: The last tier includes modalities that rely on something the user has. This could either be a physical token, such as with Smart Lock’s Trusted Devices where a phone can be unlocked when paired with a safelisted bluetooth device. Or it could be something inherent to the physical environment around the device, such as with Smart Lock’s Trusted Places where a phone can be unlocked when it is taken to a safelisted location.

    Improvements to tertiary authentication

    While both Trusted Places and Trusted Devices (and tertiary modalities in general) offer convenient ways to get access to the contents of your device, the fundamental issue they share is that they are ultimately a poor proxy for user identity. For example, an attacker could unlock a misplaced phone that uses Trusted Place simply by driving it past the user’s home, or with moderate amount of effort, spoofing a GPS signal using off-the-shelf Software Defined Radios and some mild scripting. Similarly with Trusted Device, access to a safelisted bluetooth device also gives access to all data on the user’s phone.

    Because of this, a major improvement has been made to the environmental tier in Android 10. The Tertiary tier was switched from an active unlock mechanism into an extending unlock mechanism instead. In this new mode, a tertiary tier modality can no longer unlock a locked device. Instead, if the device is first unlocked using either a primary or secondary modality, it can continue to keep it in the unlocked state for a maximum of four hours.

A closer look at Android biometrics

Biometric implementations come with a wide variety of security characteristics, so we rely on the following two key factors to determine the security of a particular implementation:

  1. Architectural security: The resilience of a biometric pipeline against kernel or platform compromise. A pipeline is considered secure if kernel and platform compromises don’t grant the ability to either read raw biometric data, or inject synthetic data into the pipeline to influence an authentication decision.
  2. Spoofability: Is measured using the Spoof Acceptance Rate (SAR). SAR is a metric first introduced in Android P, and is intended to measure how resilient a biometric is against a dedicated attacker. Read more about SAR and its measurement in Measuring Biometric Unlock Security.

We use these two factors to classify biometrics into one of three different classes in decreasing order of security:

  • Class 3 (formerly Strong)
  • Class 2 (formerly Weak)
  • Class 1 (formerly Convenience)

Each class comes with an associated set of constraints that aim to balance their ease of use with the level of security they offer.

These constraints reflect the length of time before a biometric falls back to primary authentication, and the allowed application integration. For example, a Class 3 biometric enjoys the longest timeouts and offers all integration options for apps, while a Class 1 biometric has the shortest timeouts and no options for app integration. You can see a summary of the details in the table below, or the full details in the Android Android Compatibility Definition Document (CDD).

1 App integration means exposing an API to apps (e.g., via integration with BiometricPrompt/BiometricManager, androidx.biometric, or FIDO2 APIs)

2 Keystore integration means integrating Keystore, e.g., to release app auth-bound keys

Benefits and caveats

Biometrics provide convenience to users while maintaining a high level of security. Because users need to set up a primary authentication modality in order to use biometrics, it helps boost the lockscreen adoption (we see an average of 20% higher lockscreen adoption on devices that offer biometrics versus those that do not). This allows more users to benefit from the security features that the lockscreen provides: gates unauthorized access to sensitive user data and also confers other advantages of a primary authentication modality to these users, such as encrypted backups. Finally, biometrics also help reduce shoulder surfing attacks in which an attacker tries to reproduce a PIN, pattern, or password after observing a user entering the credential.

However, it is important that users understand the trade-offs involved with the use of biometrics. Primary among these is that no biometric system is foolproof. This is true not just on Android, but across all operating systems, form-factors, and technologies. For example, a face biometric implementation might be fooled by family members who resemble the user or a 3D mask of the user. A fingerprint biometric implementation could potentially be bypassed by a spoof made from latent fingerprints of the user. Although anti-spoofing or Presentation Attack Detection (PAD) technologies have been actively developed to mitigate such spoofing attacks, they are mitigations, not preventions.

One effort that Android has made to mitigate the potential risk of using biometrics is the lockdown mode introduced in Android P. Android users can use this feature to temporarily disable biometrics, together with Smart Lock (for example, Trusted Places and Trusted Devices) as well as notifications on the lock screen, when they feel the need to do so.

To use the lockdown mode, users first need to set up a primary authentication modality and then enable it in settings. The exact setting where the lockdown mode can be enabled varies by device models, and on a Google Pixel 4 device it is under Settings > Display > Lock screen > Show lockdown option. Once enabled, users can trigger the lockdown mode by holding the power button and then clicking the Lockdown icon on the power menu. A device in lockdown mode will return to the non-lockdown state after a primary authentication modality (such as a PIN, pattern, or password) is used to unlock the device.

BiometricPrompt – New APIs

In order for developers to benefit from the security guarantee provided by Android biometrics and to easily integrate biometric authentication into their apps to better protect sensitive user data, we introduced the BiometricPrompt APIs in Android P.

There are several benefits of using the BiometricPrompt APIs. Most importantly, these APIs allow app developers to target biometrics in a modality-agnostic way across different Android devices (that is, BiometricPrompt can be used as a single integration point for various biometric modalities supported on devices), while controlling the security guarantees that the authentication needs to provide (such as requiring Class 3 or Class 2 biometrics, with device credential as a fallback). In this way, it helps protect app data with a second layer of defenses (in addition to the lockscreen) and in turn respects the sensitivity of user data. Furthermore, BiometricPrompt provides a persistent UI with customization options for certain information (for example, title and description), offering a consistent user experience across biometric modalities and across Android devices.

As shown in the following architecture diagram, apps can integrate with biometrics on Android devices through either the framework API or the support library (that is, androidx.biometric for backward compatibility). One thing to note is that FingerprintManager is deprecated because developers are encouraged to migrate to BiometricPrompt for modality-agnostic authentications.

Improvements to BiometricPrompt

Android 10 introduced the BiometricManager class that developers can use to query the availability of biometric authentication and included fingerprint and face authentication integration for BiometricPrompt.

In Android 11, we introduce new features such as the BiometricManager.Authenticators interface which allows developers to specify the authentication types accepted by their apps, as well as additional support for auth-per-use keys within the BiometricPrompt class.

More details can be found in the Android 11 preview and Android Biometrics documentation. Read more about BiometricPrompt API usage in our blog post Using BiometricPrompt with CryptoObject: How and Why and our codelab Login with Biometrics on Android.

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Improved malware protection for users in the Advanced Protection Program

Posted by Daniel Rubery, Software Engineer, Chrome, Ryan Rasti, Software Engineer, Safe Browsing, and Eric Mill, Product Manager, Chrome Security

Google’s Advanced Protection Program helps secure people at higher risk of targeted online attacks, like journalists, political organizations, and activists, with a set of constantly evolving safeguards that reflect today’s threat landscape. Chrome is always exploring new options to help all of our users better protect themselves against common online threats like malware. As a first step, today Chrome is expanding its download scanning options for users of Advanced Protection.

Advanced Protection users are already well-protected from phishing. As a result, we’ve seen that attackers target these users through other means, such as leading them to download malware. In August 2019, Chrome began warning Advanced Protection users when a downloaded file may be malicious.

Now, in addition to this warning, Chrome is giving Advanced Protection users the ability to send risky files to be scanned by Google Safe Browsing’s full suite of malware detection technology before opening the file. We expect these cloud-hosted scans to significantly improve our ability to detect when these files are malicious. 

  

When a user downloads a file, Safe Browsing will perform a quick check using metadata, such as hashes of the file, to evaluate whether it appears potentially suspicious. For any downloads that Safe Browsing deems risky, but not clearly unsafe, the user will be presented with a warning and the ability to send the file to be scanned. If the user chooses to send the file, Chrome will upload it to Google Safe Browsing, which will scan it using its static and dynamic analysis techniques in real time. After a short wait, if Safe Browsing determines the file is unsafe, Chrome will warn the user. As always, users can bypass the warning and open the file without scanning, if they are confident the file is safe. Safe Browsing deletes uploaded files a short time after scanning.

unknown.exe may be dangerous. Send to Google Advanced Protection for scanning?

Online threats are constantly changing, and it’s important that users’ security protections automatically evolve as well. With the US election fast approaching, for example, Advanced Protection could be useful to members of political campaigns whose accounts are now more likely to be targeted. If you’re a user at high-risk of attack, visit g.co/advancedprotection to enroll in the Advanced Protection Program.

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Announcing new reward amounts for abuse risk researchers

Posted by Marc Henson, Lead and Program Manager, Trust & Safety; Anna Hupa, Senior Strategist, at Google

It has been two years since we officially expanded the scope of Google’s Vulnerability Reward Program (VRP) to include the identification of product abuse risks.
Thanks to your work, we have identified more than 750 previously unknown product abuse risks, preventing abuse in Google products and protecting our users. Collaboration to address abuse is important, and we are committed to supporting research on this growing challenge. To take it one step further, and as of today, we are announcing increased reward amounts for reports focusing on potential attacks in the product abuse space.
The nature of product abuse is constantly changing. Why? The technology (product and protection) is changing, the actors are changing, and the field is growing. Within this dynamic environment, we are particularly interested in research that protects users’ privacy, ensures the integrity of our technologies, as well as prevents financial fraud or other harms at scale.
Research in the product abuse space helps us deliver trusted and safe experiences to our users. Martin Vigo’s research on Google Meet’s dial-in feature is one great example of an 31337 report that allowed us to better protect users against bad actors. His research provided insight on how an attacker could attempt to find Meet Phone Numbers/Pin, which enabled us to launch further protections to ensure that Meet would provide a secure technology connecting us while we’re apart.
New Reward Amounts for Abuse Risks
What’s new? Based on the great submissions that we received in the past as well as feedback from our Bug Hunters, we increased the highest reward by 166% from $5,000 to $13,337. Research with medium to high impact and probability will now be eligible for payment up to $5,000.
What did not change? Identification of new product abuse risks remains the primary goal of the program. Reports that qualify for a reward are those that will result in changes to the product code, as opposed to removal of individual pieces of abusive content. The final reward amount for a given abuse risk report also remains  at the discretion of the reward panel. When evaluating the impact of an abuse risk, the panels look at both the severity of the issue as well as the number of impacted users.
What’s next? We plan to expand the scope of Vulnerability Research Grants to support research preventing abuse risks. Stay tuned for more information!
Starting today the new rewards take effect. Any reports that were submitted before September 1, 2020 will be rewarded based on the previous rewards table.
We look forward to working closely together with the researcher community to prevent abuse of Google products and ensure user safety.
Happy bug hunting!

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Pixel 4a is the first device to go through ioXt at launch

Posted by Eugene Liderman and Xevi Miro Bruix, Android Security and Privacy Team

Trust is very important when it comes to the relationship between a user and their smartphone. While phone functionality and design can enhance the user experience, security is fundamental and foundational to our relationship with our phones.There are multiple ways to build trust around the security capabilities that a device provides and we continue to invest in verifiable ways to do just that.

Pixel 4a ioXt certification

Today we are happy to announce that the Pixel 4/4 XL and the newly launched Pixel 4a are the first Android smartphones to go through ioXt certification against the Android Profile.

The Internet of Secure Things Alliance (ioXt) manages a security compliance assessment program for connected devices. ioXt has over 200 members across various industries, including Google, Amazon, Facebook, T-Mobile, Comcast, Zigbee Alliance, Z-Wave Alliance, Legrand, Resideo, Schneider Electric, and many others. With so many companies involved, ioXt covers a wide range of device types, including smart lighting, smart speakers, webcams, and Android smartphones.

The core focus of ioXt is “to set security standards that bring security, upgradability and transparency to the market and directly into the hands of consumers.” This is accomplished by assessing devices against a baseline set of requirements and relying on publicly available evidence. The goal of ioXt’s approach is to enable users, enterprises, regulators, and other stakeholders to understand the security in connected products to drive better awareness towards how these products are protecting the security and privacy of users.

ioXt’s baseline security requirements are tailored for product classes, and the ioXt Android Profile enables smartphone manufacturers to differentiate security capabilities, including biometric authentication strength, security update frequency, length of security support lifetime commitment, vulnerability disclosure program quality, and preloaded app risk minimization.

We believe that using a widely known industry consortium standard for Pixel certification provides increased trust in the security claims we make to our users. NCC Group has published an audit report that can be downloaded here. The report documents the evaluation of Pixel 4/4 XL and Pixel 4a against the ioXt Android Profile.

Security by Default is one of the most important criteria used in the ioXt Android profile. Security by Default rates devices by cumulatively scoring the risk for all preloads on a particular device. For this particular measurement, we worked with a team of university experts from the University of Cambridge, University of Strathclyde, and Johannes Kepler University in Linz, who created a formula that considers the risk of platform signed apps, pregranted permissions on preloaded apps, and apps communicating using cleartext traffic.

Screenshot of the presentation of the Android Device Security Database at the Android Security Symposium 2020

In partnership with those teams, Google created Uraniborg, an open source tool that collects necessary attributes from the device and runs it through this formula to come up with a raw score. NCC Group leveraged Uraniborg to conduct the assessment for the ioXt Security by Default category.

As part of our ongoing certification efforts, we look forward to submitting future Pixel smartphones through the ioXt standard, and we encourage the Android device ecosystem to participate in similar transparency efforts for their devices.

Acknowledgements: This post leveraged contributions from Sudhi Herle, Billy Lau and Sam Schumacher

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Towards native security defenses for the web ecosystem

Posted by Artur Janc and Lukas Weichselbaum, Information Security Engineers

With the recent launch of Chrome 83, and the upcoming release of Mozilla Firefox 79, web developers are gaining powerful new security mechanisms to protect their applications from common web vulnerabilities. In this post we share how our Information Security Engineering team is deploying Trusted Types, Content Security Policy, Fetch Metadata Request Headers and the Cross-Origin Opener Policy across Google to help guide and inspire other developers to similarly adopt these features to protect their applications.

History

Since the advent of modern web applications, such as email clients or document editors accessible in your browser, developers have been dealing with common web vulnerabilities which may allow user data to fall prey to attackers. While the web platform provides robust isolation for the underlying operating system, the isolation between web applications themselves is a different story. Issues such as XSS, CSRF and cross-site leaks have become unfortunate facets of web development, affecting almost every website at some point in time.

These vulnerabilities are unintended consequences of some of the web’s most wonderful characteristics: composability, openness, and ease of development. Simply put, the original vision of the web as a mesh of interconnected documents did not anticipate the creation of a vibrant ecosystem of web applications handling private data for billions of people across the globe. Consequently, the security capabilities of the web platform meant to help developers safeguard their users’ data have evolved slowly and provided only partial protections from common flaws.

Web developers have traditionally compensated for the platform’s shortcomings by building additional security engineering tools and processes to protect their applications from common flaws; such infrastructure has often proven costly to develop and maintain. As the web continues to change to offer developers more impressive capabilities, and web applications become more critical to our lives, we find ourselves in increasing need of more powerful, all-encompassing security mechanisms built directly into the web platform.

Over the past two years, browser makers and security engineers from Google and other companies have collaborated on the design and implementation of several major security features to defend against common web flaws. These mechanisms, which we focus on in this post, protect against injections and offer isolation capabilities, addressing two major, long-standing sources of insecurity on the web.

Injection Vulnerabilities

In the design of systems, mixing code and data is one of the canonical security anti-patterns, causing software vulnerabilities as far back as in the 1980s. It is the root cause of vulnerabilities such as SQL injection and command injection, allowing the compromise of databases and application servers.

On the web, application code has historically been intertwined with page data. HTML markup such as <script> elements or event handler attributes (onclick or onload) allow JavaScript execution; even the familiar URL can carry code and result in script execution when navigating to a javascript: link. While sometimes convenient, the upshot of this design is that – unless the application takes care to protect itself – data used to compose an HTML page can easily inject unwanted scripts and take control of the application in the user’s browser.

Addressing this problem in a principled manner requires allowing the application to separate its data from code; this can be done by enabling two new security features: Trusted Types and Content Security Policy based on script nonces.

Trusted Types
Main article: web.dev/trusted-types by Krzysztof Kotowicz

JavaScript functions used by developers to build web applications often rely on parsing arbitrary structure out of strings. A string which seems to contain data can be turned directly into code when passed to a common API, such as innerHTML. This is the root cause of most DOM-based XSS vulnerabilities.

Trusted Types make JavaScript code safe-by-default by restricting risky operations, such as generating HTML or creating scripts, to require a special object – a Trusted Type. The browser will ensure that any use of dangerous DOM functions is allowed only if the right object is provided to the function. As long as an application produces these objects safely in a central Trusted Types policy, it will be free of DOM-based XSS bugs.

You can enable Trusted Types by setting the following response header:

We have recently launched Trusted Types for all users of My Google Activity and are working with dozens of product teams across Google as well as JavaScript framework owners to make their code support this important safety mechanism.

Trusted Types are supported in Chrome 83 and other Chromium-based browsers, and a polyfill is available for other user agents.

Content Security Policy based on script nonces
Main article: Reshaping web defenses with strict Content Security Policy

Content Security Policy (CSP) allows developers to require every <script> on the page to contain a secret value unknown to attackers. The script nonce attribute, set to an unpredictable number for every page load, acts as a guarantee that a given script is under the control of the application: even if part of the page is injected by an attacker, the browser will refuse to execute any injected script which doesn’t identify itself with the correct nonce. This mitigates the impact of any server-side injection bugs, such as reflected XSS and stored XSS.

CSP can be enabled by setting the following HTTP response header:

This header requires all scripts in your HTML templating system to include a nonce attribute with a value matching the one in the response header:

Our CSP Evaluator tool can help you configure a strong policy. To help deploy a production-quality CSP in your application, check out this presentation and the documentation on csp.withgoogle.com.

Since the initial launch of CSP at Google, we have deployed strong policies on 75% of outgoing traffic from our applications, including in our flagship products such as GMail and Google Docs & Drive. CSP has mitigated the exploitation of over 30 high-risk XSS flaws across Google in the past two years.

Nonce-based CSP is supported in Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge and other Chromium-based browsers. Partial support for this variant of CSP is also available in Safari.

Isolation Capabilities

Many kinds of web flaws are exploited by an attacker’s site forcing an unwanted interaction with another web application. Preventing these issues requires browsers to offer new mechanisms to allow applications to restrict such behaviors. Fetch Metadata Request Headers enable building server-side restrictions when processing incoming HTTP requests; the Cross-Origin Opener Policy is a client-side mechanism which protects the application’s windows from unwanted DOM interactions.

Fetch Metadata Request Headers
Main article: web.dev/fetch-metadata by Lukas Weichselbaum

A common cause of web security problems is that applications don’t receive information about the source of a given HTTP request, and thus aren’t able to distinguish benign self-initiated web traffic from unwanted requests sent by other websites. This leads to vulnerabilities such as cross-site request forgery (CSRF) and web-based information leaks (XS-leaks).

Fetch Metadata headers, which the browser attaches to outgoing HTTP requests, solve this problem by providing the application with trustworthy information about the provenance of requests sent to the server: the source of the request, its type (for example, whether it’s a navigation or resource request), and other security-relevant metadata.

By checking the values of these new HTTP headers (Sec-Fetch-Site, Sec-Fetch-Mode and Sec-Fetch-Dest), applications can build flexible server-side logic to reject untrusted requests, similar to the following:

We provided a detailed explanation of this logic and adoption considerations at web.dev/fetch-metadata. Importantly, Fetch Metadata can both complement and facilitate the adoption of Cross-Origin Resource Policy which offers client-side protection against unexpected subresource loads; this header is described in detail at resourcepolicy.fyi.

At Google, we’ve enabled restrictions using Fetch Metadata headers in several major products such as Google Photos, and are following up with a large-scale rollout across our application ecosystem.

Fetch Metadata headers are currently sent by Chrome and Chromium-based browsers and are available in development versions of Firefox.

Cross-Origin Opener Policy
Main article: web.dev/coop-coep by Eiji Kitamura

By default, the web permits some interactions with browser windows belonging to another application: any site can open a pop-up to your webmail client and send it messages via the postMessage API, navigate it to another URL, or obtain information about its frames. All of these capabilities can lead to information leak vulnerabilities:

Cross-Origin Opener Policy (COOP) allows you to lock down your application to prevent such interactions. To enable COOP in your application, set the following HTTP response header:

If your application opens other sites as pop-ups, you may need to set the header value to same-origin-allow-popups instead; see this document for details.

We are currently testing Cross-Origin Opener Policy in several Google applications, and we’re looking forward to enabling it broadly in the coming months.

COOP is available starting in Chrome 83 and in Firefox 79.

The Future

Creating a strong and vibrant web requires developers to be able to guarantee the safety of their users’ data. Adding security mechanisms to the web platform – building them directly into browsers – is an important step forward for the ecosystem: browsers can help developers understand and control aspects of their sites which affect their security posture. As users update to recent versions of their favorite browsers, they will gain protections from many of the security flaws that have affected web applications in the past.

While the security features described in this post are not a panacea, they offer fundamental building blocks that help developers build secure web applications. We’re excited about the continued deployment of these mechanisms across Google, and we’re looking forward to collaborating with browser makers and the web standards community to improve them in the future.

For more information about web security mechanisms and the bugs they prevent, see the Securing Web Apps with Modern Platform Features Google I/O talk (video).

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System hardening in Android 11

Posted by Platform Hardening Team

In Android 11 we continue to increase the security of the Android platform. We have moved to safer default settings, migrated to a hardened memory allocator, and expanded the use of compiler mitigations that defend against classes of vulnerabilities and frustrate exploitation techniques.

Initializing memory

We’ve enabled forms of automatic memory initialization in both Android 11’s userspace and the Linux kernel. Uninitialized memory bugs occur in C/C++ when memory is used without having first been initialized to a known safe value. These types of bugs can be confusing, and even the term “uninitialized” is misleading. Uninitialized may seem to imply that a variable has a random value. In reality it isn’t random. It has whatever value was previously placed there. This value may be predictable or even attacker controlled. Unfortunately this behavior can result in a serious vulnerability such as information disclosure bugs like ASLR bypasses, or control flow hijacking via a stack or heap spray. Another possible side effect of using uninitialized values is advanced compiler optimizations may transform the code unpredictably, as this is considered undefined behavior by the relevant C standards.

In practice, uses of uninitialized memory are difficult to detect. Such errors may sit in the codebase unnoticed for years if the memory happens to be initialized with some “safe” value most of the time. When uninitialized memory results in a bug, it is often challenging to identify the source of the error, particularly if it is rarely triggered.

Eliminating an entire class of such bugs is a lot more effective than hunting them down individually. Automatic stack variable initialization relies on a feature in the Clang compiler which allows choosing initializing local variables with either zeros or a pattern.

Initializing to zero provides safer defaults for strings, pointers, indexes, and sizes. The downsides of zero init are less-safe defaults for return values, and exposing fewer bugs where the underlying code relies on zero initialization. Pattern initialization tends to expose more bugs and is generally safer for return values and less safe for strings, pointers, indexes, and sizes.

Initializing Userspace:

Automatic stack variable initialization is enabled throughout the entire Android userspace. During the development of Android 11, we initially selected pattern in order to uncover bugs relying on zero init and then moved to zero-init after a few months for increased safety. Platform OS developers can build with `AUTO_PATTERN_INITIALIZE=true m` if they want help uncovering bugs relying on zero init.

Initializing the Kernel:

Automatic stack and heap initialization were recently merged in the upstream Linux kernel. We have made these features available on earlier versions of Android’s kernel including 4.14, 4.19, and 5.4. These features enforce initialization of local variables and heap allocations with known values that cannot be controlled by attackers and are useless when leaked. Both features result in a performance overhead, but also prevent undefined behavior improving both stability and security.

For kernel stack initialization we adopted the CONFIG_INIT_STACK_ALL from upstream Linux. It currently relies on Clang pattern initialization for stack variables, although this is subject to change in the future.

Heap initialization is controlled by two boot-time flags, init_on_alloc and init_on_free, with the former wiping freshly allocated heap objects with zeroes (think s/kmalloc/kzalloc in the whole kernel) and the latter doing the same before the objects are freed (this helps to reduce the lifetime of security-sensitive data). init_on_alloc is a lot more cache-friendly and has smaller performance impact (within 2%), therefore it has been chosen to protect Android kernels.

Scudo is now Android’s default native allocator

In Android 11, Scudo replaces jemalloc as the default native allocator for Android. Scudo is a hardened memory allocator designed to help detect and mitigate memory corruption bugs in the heap, such as:

Scudo does not fully prevent exploitation but it does add a number of sanity checks which are effective at strengthening the heap against some memory corruption bugs.

It also proactively organizes the heap in a way that makes exploitation of memory corruption more difficult, by reducing the predictability of the allocation patterns, and separating allocations by sizes.

In our internal testing, Scudo has already proven its worth by surfacing security and stability bugs that were previously undetected.

Finding Heap Memory Safety Bugs in the Wild (GWP-ASan)

Android 11 introduces GWP-ASan, an in-production heap memory safety bug detection tool that’s integrated directly into the native allocator Scudo. GWP-ASan probabilistically detects and provides actionable reports for heap memory safety bugs when they occur, works on 32-bit and 64-bit processes, and is enabled by default for system processes and system apps.

GWP-ASan is also available for developer applications via a one line opt-in in an app’s AndroidManifest.xml, with no complicated build support or recompilation of prebuilt libraries necessary.

Software Tag-Based KASAN

Continuing work on adopting the Arm Memory Tagging Extension (MTE) in Android, Android 11 includes support for kernel HWASAN, also known as Software Tag-Based KASAN. Userspace HWASAN is supported since Android 10.

KernelAddressSANitizer (KASAN) is a dynamic memory error detector designed to find out-of-bound and use-after-free bugs in the Linux kernel. Its Software Tag-Based mode is a software implementation of the memory tagging concept for the kernel. Software Tag-Based KASAN is available in 4.14, 4.19 and 5.4 Android kernels, and can be enabled with the CONFIG_KASAN_SW_TAGS kernel configuration option. Currently Tag-Based KASAN only supports tagging of slab memory; support for other types of memory (such as stack and globals) will be added in the future.

Compared to Generic KASAN, Tag-Based KASAN has significantly lower memory requirements (see this kernel commit for details), which makes it usable on dog food testing devices. Another use case for Software Tag-Based KASAN is checking the existing kernel code for compatibility with memory tagging. As Tag-Based KASAN is based on similar concepts as the future in-kernel MTE support, making sure that kernel code works with Tag-Based KASAN will ease in-kernel MTE integration in the future.

Expanding existing compiler mitigations

We’ve continued to expand the compiler mitigations that have been rolled out in prior releases as well. This includes adding both integer and bounds sanitizers to some core libraries that were lacking them. For example, the libminikin fonts library and the libui rendering library are now bounds sanitized. We’ve hardened the NFC stack by implementing both integer overflow sanitizer and bounds sanitizer in those components.

In addition to the hard mitigations like sanitizers, we also continue to expand our use of CFI as an exploit mitigation. CFI has been enabled in Android’s networking daemon, DNS resolver, and more of our core javascript libraries like libv8 and the PacProcessor.

The effectiveness of our software codec sandbox

Prior to the Release of Android 10 we announced a new constrained sandbox for software codecs. We’re really pleased with the results. Thus far, Android 10 is the first Android release since the infamous stagefright vulnerabilities in Android 5.0 with zero critical-severity vulnerabilities in the media frameworks.

Thank you to Jeff Vander Stoep, Alexander Potapenko, Stephen Hines, Andrey Konovalov, Mitch Phillips, Ivan Lozano, Kostya Kortchinsky, Christopher Ferris, Cindy Zhou, Evgenii Stepanov, Kevin Deus, Peter Collingbourne, Elliott Hughes, Kees Cook and Ken Chen for their contributions to this post.

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11 Weeks of Android: Privacy and Security

Posted by Charmaine D’Silva, Product Lead, Android Privacy and Framework, Narayan Kamath, Engineering Lead, Android Privacy and Framework, Stephan Somogyi, Product Lead, Android Security and Sudhi Herle, Engineering Lead, Android Security

This blog post is part of a weekly series for #11WeeksOfAndroid. For each #11WeeksOfAndroid, we’re diving into a key area so you don’t miss anything. This week, we spotlighted Privacy and Security; here’s a look at what you should know.

mobile security illustration

Privacy and security is core to how we design Android, and with every new release we increase our investment in this space. Android 11 continues to make important strides in these areas, and this week we’ll be sharing a series of updates and resources about Android privacy and security. But first, let’s take a quick look at some of the most important changes we’ve made in Android 11 to protect user privacy and make the platform more secure.

As shared in the “All things privacy in Android 11” video, we’re giving users even more control over sensitive permissions. Throughout the development of this release, we have engaged deeply and frequently with our developer community to design these features in a balanced way – amplifying user privacy while minimizing developer impact. Let’s go over some of these features:

One-time permission: In Android 10, we introduced a granular location permission that allows users to limit access to location only when an app is in use (aka foreground only). When presented with the new runtime permissions options, users choose foreground only location more than 50% of the time. This demonstrated to us that users really wanted finer controls for permissions. So in Android 11, we’ve introduced one time permissions that let users give an app access to the device microphone, camera, or location, just that one time. As an app developer, there are no changes that you need to make to your app for it to work with one time permissions, and the app can request permissions again the next time the app is used. Learn more about building privacy-friendly apps with these new changes in this video.

Background location: In Android 10 we added a background location usage reminder so users can see how apps are using this sensitive data on a regular basis. Users who interacted with the reminder either downgraded or denied the location permission over 75% of the time. In addition, we have done extensive research and believe that there are very few legitimate use cases for apps to require access to location in the background.

In Android 11, background location will no longer be a permission that a user can grant via a run time prompt and it will require a more deliberate action. If your app needs background location, the system will ensure that the app first asks for foreground location. The app can then broaden its access to background location through a separate permission request, which will cause the system to take the user to Settings in order to complete the permission grant.

In February, we announced that Google Play developers will need to get approval to access background location in their app to prevent misuse. We’re giving developers more time to make changes and won’t be enforcing the policy for existing apps until 2021. Check out this helpful video to find possible background location usage in your code.

Permissions auto-reset: Most users tend to download and install over 60 apps on their device but interact with only a third of these apps on a regular basis. If users haven’t used an app that targets Android 11 for an extended period of time, the system will “auto-reset” all of the granted runtime permissions associated with the app and notify the user. The app can request the permissions again the next time the app is used. If you have an app that has a legitimate need to retain permissions, you can prompt users to turn this feature OFF for your app in Settings.

Data access auditing APIs: Android encourages developers to limit their access to sensitive data, even if they have been granted permission to do so. In Android 11, developers will have access to new APIs that will give them more transparency into their app’s usage of private and protected data. The APIs will enable apps to track when the system records the app’s access to private user data.

Scoped Storage: In Android 10, we introduced scoped storage which provides a filtered view into external storage, giving access to app-specific files and media collections. This change protects user privacy by limiting broad access to shared storage in many ways including changing the storage permission to only give read access to photos, videos and music and improving app storage attribution. Since Android 10, we’ve incorporated developer feedback and made many improvements to help developers adopt scoped storage, including: updated permission UI to enhance user experience, direct file path access to media to improve compatibility with existing libraries, updated APIs for modifying media, Manage External Storage permission to enable select use cases that need broad files access, and protected external app directories. In Android 11, scoped storage will be mandatory for all apps that target API level 30. Learn more in this video and check out the developer documentation for further details.

Google Play system updates: Google Play system updates were introduced with Android 10 as part of Project Mainline. Their main benefit is to increase the modularity and granularity of platform subsystems within Android so we can update core OS components without needing a full OTA update from your phone manufacturer. Earlier this year, thanks to Project Mainline, we were able to quickly fix a critical vulnerability in the media decoding subsystem. Android 11 adds new modules, and maintains the security properties of existing ones. For example, Conscrypt, which provides cryptographic primitives, maintained its FIPS validation in Android 11 as well.

BiometricPrompt API: Developers can now use the BiometricPrompt API to specify the biometric authenticator strength required by their app to unlock or access sensitive parts of the app. We are planning to add this to the Jetpack Biometric library to allow for backward compatibility and will share further updates on this work as it progresses.

Identity Credential API: This will unlock new use cases such as mobile drivers licences, National ID, and Digital ID. It’s being built by our security team to ensure this information is stored safely, using security hardware to secure and control access to the data, in a way that enhances user privacy as compared to traditional physical documents. We’re working with various government agencies and industry partners to make sure that Android 11 is ready for such digital-first identity experiences.

Thank you for your flexibility and feedback as we continue to build an increasingly more private and secure platform. You can learn about more features in the Android 11 Beta developer site. You can also learn about general best practices related to privacy and security.

Please follow Android Developers on Twitter and Youtube to catch helpful content and materials in this area all this week.

Resources

You can find the entire playlist of #11WeeksOfAndroid video content here, and learn more about each week here. We’ll continue to spotlight new areas each week, so keep an eye out and follow us on Twitter and YouTube. Thanks so much for letting us be a part of this experience with you!

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