Virtual Theft in Physical Spaces with Smartphones

An interesting paper was recently published on the dangers of malware related to spying/virtual theft.  The article is available here, the abstract is below.

PlaceRaider: Virtual Theft in Physical Spaces with Smartphones

Abstract

As smartphones become more pervasive, they are increasingly targeted by malware. At the same time, each new generation of smartphone features increasingly powerful onboard sensor suites. A new strain of `sensor malware’ has been developing that leverages these sensors to steal information from the physical environment | e.g., researchers have recently demonstrated how malware can `listen’ for spoken credit card numbers through the microphone, or `feel’ keystroke vibrations using the accelerometer. Yet the possibilities of what malware can `see’ through a camera have been understudied.

This paper introduces a novel `visual malware’ called PlaceRaider, which allows remote attackers to engage in remote reconnaissance and what we call “virtual theft.” Through completely opportunistic use of the phone’s camera and other sensors, PlaceRaider constructs rich, three dimensional models of indoor environments. Remote burglars can thus `download’ the physical space, study the environment carefully, and steal virtual objects from the environment (such as nancial documents, information on computer monitors, and personally identiable information).

Through two human subject studies we demonstrate the eectiveness of using mobile devices as powerful surveillance and virtual theft platforms, and we suggest several possible defenses against visual malware.

Smartphones are Changing the Way We Communicate

A new study from PEW Internet, “Just-in-time Information through Mobile Connections” highlights that the rapid adoption of cell phones and, especially, the spread of internet-connected smartphones are changing people’s communications with others and their relationships with information. Users’ ability to access data immediately through apps and web browsers and through contact with their social networks is creating a new culture of real-time information seekers and problem solvers.

Some 70% of all cell phone owners and 86% of smartphone owners have used their phones in the previous 30 days to perform at least one of the following activities:

  • Coordinate a meeting or get-together — 41% of cell phone owners have done this in the past 30 days.
  • Solve an unexpected problem that they or someone else had encountered — 35% have used their phones to do this in the past 30 days.
  • Decide whether to visit a business, such as a restaurant — 30% have used their phone to do this in the past 30 days.
  • Find information to help settle an argument they were having — 27% have used their phone to get information for that reason in the past 30 days.
  • Look up a score of a sporting event — 23% have used their phone to do that in the past 30 days.
  • Get up-to-the-minute traffic or public transit information to find the fastest way to get somewhere — 20% have used their phone to get that kind of information in the past 30 days.
  • Get help in an emergency situation — 19% have used their phone to do that in the past 30 days.

 

Android a Money Loser for Manufacturers and Software Developers?

Vendors selling Android phones are not seeing profits – or brand loyalty – according to recent reports.

Android also does not appear to be working out very well for app developers in general – according to Distimo (May 2011) around 20% of the free apps available in the Android Market have not achieved 100 downloads, and the majority (51.8%) of free applications have been downloaded less than 1,000 times to date. More significantly, 80% of all paid applications have failed to get more than 100 downloads.   And those developers who are making sales are having difficulty getting paid by Google.