A Study of the Feasibility of Co-located App Attacks against BLE and a Large-Scale Analysis of the Current Application-Layer Security Landscape

Authors: 

Pallavi Sivakumaran and Jorge Blasco, Royal Holloway University of London

Abstract: 

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is a fast-growing wireless technology with a large number of potential use cases, particularly in the IoT domain. Increasingly, these use cases require the storage of sensitive user data or critical device controls on the BLE device, as well as the access of this data by an augmentative mobile application. Uncontrolled access to such data could violate user privacy, cause a device to malfunction, or even endanger lives. The BLE standard provides security mechanisms such as pairing and bonding to protect sensitive data such that only authenticated devices can access it. In this paper we show how unauthorized co-located Android applications can access pairing-protected BLE data, without the user's knowledge. We discuss mitigation strategies in terms of the various stakeholders involved in this ecosystem, and argue that at present, the only possible option for securing BLE data is for BLE developers to implement remedial measures in the form of application-layer security between the BLE device and the Android application. We introduce BLECryptracer, a tool for identifying the presence of such application-layer security, and present the results of a large-scale static analysis over 18,900+ BLE-enabled Android applications. Our findings indicate that over 45% of these applications do not implement measures to protect BLE data, and that cryptography is sometimes applied incorrectly in those that do. This implies that a potentially large number of corresponding BLE peripheral devices are vulnerable to unauthorized data access.

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BibTeX
@inproceedings {236312,
author = {Pallavi Sivakumaran and Jorge Blasco},
title = {A Study of the Feasibility of Co-located App Attacks against {BLE} and a Large-Scale Analysis of the Current Application-Layer Security Landscape},
booktitle = {28th {USENIX} Security Symposium ({USENIX} Security 19)},
year = {2019},
isbn = {978-1-939133-06-9},
address = {Santa Clara, CA},
pages = {1--18},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/usenixsecurity19/presentation/sivakumaran},
publisher = {{USENIX} Association},
month = aug,
}