AWare: Preventing Abuse of Privacy-Sensitive Sensors via Operation Bindings


Giuseppe Petracca, The Pennsylvania State University, US; Ahmad-Atamli Reineh, University of Oxford, UK; Yuqiong Sun, The Pennsylvania State University, US; Jens Grossklags, Technical University of Munich, DE; Trent Jaeger, The Pennsylvania State University, US


System designers have long struggled with the challenge of determining how to control when untrusted applications may perform operations using privacy-sensitive sensors securely and effectively. Current systems request that users authorize such operations once (i.e., on install or first use), but malicious applications may abuse such authorizations to collect data stealthily using such sensors. Proposed research methods enable systems to infer the operations associated with user input events, but malicious applications may still trick users into allowing unexpected, stealthy operations. To prevent users from being tricked, we propose to bind applications’ operation requests to the associated user input events and how they were obtained explicitly, enabling users to authorize operations on privacy-sensitive sensors unambiguously and reuse such authorizations. To demonstrate this approach, we implement the AWare authorization framework for Android, extending the Android Middleware to control access to privacy-sensitive sensors. We evaluate the effectiveness of AWare in: (1) a laboratory-based user study, finding that at most 7% of the users were tricked by examples of four types of attacks when using AWare, instead of 85% on average for prior approaches; (2) a field study, showing that the user authorization effort increases by only 2.28 decisions on average per application; (3) a compatibility study with 1,000 of the most-downloaded Android applications, demonstrating that such applications can operate effectively under AWare.

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@inproceedings {203834,
author = {Giuseppe Petracca and Ahmad-Atamli Reineh and Yuqiong Sun and Jens Grossklags and Trent Jaeger},
title = {AWare: Preventing Abuse of Privacy-Sensitive Sensors via Operation Bindings},
booktitle = {26th {USENIX} Security Symposium ({USENIX} Security 17)},
year = {2017},
isbn = {978-1-931971-40-9},
address = {Vancouver, BC},
pages = {379--396},
url = {},
publisher = {{USENIX} Association},