March 30, 2010

Security Book Review: Mobile Malware Attacks and Defense

Mobile Malware Attacks and Defense
Author: Ken Dunham et. al.
Editorial: Syngress
Publication date: November 14, 2008
ISBN-10: 1597492981
ISBN-13: 978-1597492980

Summary: An historical reference of mobile malware and threats, plus a technical introduction to its analysis and in-depth inspection.

Score: 4/5

Security threats on mobile platforms are one of the key topics and
main targets for the next couple of years, given the ubiquity and popularity of these devices, plus their advanced capabilities and use of sensitive application: micro payments, online banking and e-commerce, access to "the cloud", etc.

This book is one of the few references, if not the only one (till very recently), focused on the multiple security aspects of the mobile ecosystem. As such, it constitutes a great historical reference about what mobile malware (referred as MM) and threats were until its publication, in late 2008.

The book starts by introducing mobile malware, although it can be a bit confusing for the novice reader, as it mixes up attacks, tools and threats (most them Bluetooth based), and for example, WiFi is not even mentioned (yet). The next chapter (ch 2) provides an interesting overview on how mobile malware shows up in a terminal from a user perspective, including the most common behaviors and the kind of interaction expected from the user. It would be great to have a detailed explanation of the propagation method, as with CommWarrior, for all the samples analyzed in this chapter.

The next three chapters (ch 3-5) are a really valuable historical reference about mobile malware, including its timeline, how it has evolved since 2000 till 2008, the types of threats, categorized by malware families, the most significant or famous specimens, such as Cabir in the Bluetooth side, plus an extensive taxonomy of mobile malware and threats based on the infection strategy, distribution and payload. Although some tables, with more than 400 references, could have been moved to an appendix to facilitate the reading, this set of chapters summarizes how mobile malware seriously started, back in 2004, and evolved over time. The comparison of different pieces of malware, and the extra analysis of the most relevant specimens, together with the technical details they used to survive, makes this section of the book a very good "encyclopedia".

Then, the book reflects the influence of multiple authors, presenting different unconnected and independent chapters. The phishing, SMSishing and Vishing chapter moves out of the mobile space, covering lots of details about these threats on traditional environments, such as common web browser based solutions, and the usage and purpose of the network captures attached is still not clear to me. I still remember my surprise from a technical perspective when I read that the transmitted data between the client and the verification server could not be identified, as they were using an SSL connection: "What about using a HTTP(S) interception proxy?" Finally, it includes an extensive phishing academic research mainly based on Bayesian networks and a distributed framework, which on my opinion, is clearly out of the scope of the book.

The more technical chapters come next; chapter 7 focuses on the core elements for the most widely used mobile platforms, their protection mechanisms and how they have been bypassed in the past, covering mainly Windows Mobile (WM), iPhone, Symbian, BlackBerry and J2ME (Java). It includes a extremely short summary on prevention and exploitation. This is complemented by the techniques, methods and tools available for the analysis of mobile malware (ch 8), the in-depth details for the disassembly and debugging of associated binaries (ch 10), plus the strategy and main constraints to perform a forensic analysis on this type of devices (chapters 8 and 9). This is by far the most relevant technical portion of the book.

The book follows the old and useful Syngress layout tradition of adding a few common sections at the end of each chapter to reinforce the material covered: Summary, Solutions Fast Track, and FAQ.

The first portion of the book (ch 1-5) will be an eye opener for a non-technical audience; highly recommended, together with the last chapter (ch 11) focused on the defensive side and how to mitigate all the threats covered along the book. The second portion for the book (ch 7-10) is focused on security professionals, mainly incident handlers and forensic analyst that need to deal with the technical aspects of mobile attacks and infections.

Due to the new mobile threats and issues that turned up in 2009 for the advanced smartphone platforms (like iPhone or Android), and the trend for new and more dangerous specimens expected in 2010, a second volume or edition would be a must.

UPDATE: Amazon review (first one).

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