Menu
Mobile apps could be abused to make expensive phone calls

Mobile apps could be abused to make expensive phone calls

Mobile applications often don't warn users before a call is made, which a developer says could be abused

A security precaution skipped in mobile applications such as Facebook's Messenger could be abused to make an expensive phone call at a victim's expense, a developer contends.

Phone numbers often appear as links on a mobile device. That is possible by using a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) scheme called "tel" to trigger a call.

URI schemes are a large family of descriptions that can tell a computer where to go for a certain resource, such as launching a mail application when an email address is clicked.

Andrei Neculaesei, a full-stack developer with the wireless streaming company Airtame in Copenhagen, contends there's a risk in how most native mobile applications handle phone numbers.

If a person clicks on a phone number within Apple's mobile Safari browser, a pop-up asks if a person wants to proceed with a call.

But many native mobile applications, including Facebook's Messenger and Google's +, will go ahead and make the call without asking, Neculaesei wrote on his blog.

Mobile apps can be configured to display a warning, but on most applications it's turned off, Neculaesei said via email on Thursday.

He found a malicious way to abuse the behavior. He created a Web page containing JavaScript that caused a mobile application to trigger a call after someone merely viewed the page. The JavaScript automatically launches the phone number's URI when the page is opened.

A demonstration on his blog showed how a malicious link, sent through Facebook's Messenger, will launch a call when viewed. Neculaesei wrote that someone could create a link that when viewed immediately launches a call to a premium-rate number, which the attacker gets the revenue from.

His testing found that Facebook's Messenger app, Apple's Facetime, Google's Gmail and Google + applications do not warn users before launching a call.

Facebook and Google couldn't be immediately reached for comment. Neculaesei wrote that he only tested a few big-name apps, but it's probable that smaller teams and platforms haven't thought about the risk either.

Neculaesei's finding dovetails with research presented earlier this month at the Bsides security conference in Las Vegas.

Guillaume K. Ross, an information security consultant in Montreal, found that URI schemes can be abused, resulting in data losses or compromising a person's privacy. A video of his presentation is online.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk


Follow Us

Join the newsletter!

Or
Error: Please check your email address.

Tags securityGoogleFacebookAppleExploits / vulnerabilities

Featured

Slideshows

Bumper channel crowd kicks off first After Hours of 2018

Bumper channel crowd kicks off first After Hours of 2018

After Hours made a welcome return to the channel social calendar with a bumper crowd of partners, distributors and vendors descending on The Jefferson in Auckland to kick-start 2018. Photos by Gino Demeer.

Bumper channel crowd kicks off first After Hours of 2018
Looking back at the top 15 M&A deals in NZ during 2017

Looking back at the top 15 M&A deals in NZ during 2017

In 2017, merger and acquisitions fever reached new heights in New Zealand, with a host of big name deals dominating the headlines. Reseller News recaps the most important transactions of the Kiwi channel during the past 12 months.

Looking back at the top 15 M&A deals in NZ during 2017
Kiwi channel closes 2017 with After Hours

Kiwi channel closes 2017 with After Hours

The channel in New Zealand came together to celebrate the close of 2017, as the final After Hours played out in front of a bumper Auckland crowd.

Kiwi channel closes 2017 with After Hours
Show Comments