Empirical security and privacy analysis of mobile symptom checking apps on Google Play

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Abstract

Smartphone technology has drastically improved over the past decade. These improvements have seen the creation of specialized health applications, which offer consumers a range of health-related activities such as tracking and checking symptoms of health conditions or diseases through their smartphones. We term these applications as Symptom Checking apps or simply SymptomCheckers. Due to the sensitive nature of the private data they collect, store and manage, leakage of user information could result in significant consequences. In this paper, we use a combination of techniques from both static and dynamic analysis to detect, trace and categorize security and privacy issues in 36 popular SymptomCheckers on Google Play. Our analyses reveal that SymptomCheckers request a significantly higher number of sensitive permissions and embed a higher number of third-party tracking libraries for targeted advertisements and analytics exploiting the privileged access of the SymptomCheckers in which they exist, as a mean of collecting and sharing critically sensitive data about the user and their device. We find that these are sharing the data that they collect through unencrypted plain text to the third-party advertisers and, in some cases, to malicious domains. The results reveal that the exploitation of SymptomCheckers is present in popular apps, still readily available on Google Play.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 18th International Conference on Security and Cryptography, SECRYPT 2021
EditorsSabrina De Capitani di Vimercati, Pierangela Samarati
Place of PublicationSetúbal, Portugal
PublisherSciTePress
Pages665-673
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9789897585241
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Event18th International Conference on Security and Cryptography, SECRYPT 2021 - Virtual, Online
Duration: 6 Jul 20218 Jul 2021

Publication series

NameProceedings of the 18th International Conference on Security and Cryptography, SECRYPT 2021

Conference

Conference18th International Conference on Security and Cryptography, SECRYPT 2021
CityVirtual, Online
Period6/07/218/07/21

Bibliographical note

Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.

Keywords

  • Android Apps
  • Privacy
  • Security
  • Static Analysis
  • Dynamic Fingerprinting

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