Researchers Find Way to Sniff Corporate Email Via BlackBerry PlayBook

MIAMI BEACH–Researchers and attackers have had no shortage of mobile platforms and devices to sink their teeth into in recent years, thanks to the explosion of iOS and Android phones and tablets in the consumer and enterprise markets. Now, the spotlight is slowly beginning to turn in the direction of RIM, and specifically its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet.

PlaybookMIAMI BEACH–Researchers and attackers have had no shortage of mobile platforms and devices to sink their teeth into in recent years, thanks to the explosion of iOS and Android phones and tablets in the consumer and enterprise markets. Now, the spotlight is slowly beginning to turn in the direction of RIM, and specifically its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet.

The first dings in the PlayBook’s armor came last month when a group of researchers published a tool that could jailbreak PlayBook tablets through the exploitation of a bug they’d discovered in the operating system. RIM later issued a fix for the jailbreak, but that was just the start of what may end up being a long road for the company’s security efforts.

The latest indication is work done by a pair of researchers who found a series of problems and weaknesses in PlayBook, including one that enables an attacker to listen in on the connection between the tablet and a BlackBerry handset. That connection, which is done via Bluetooth in the company’s Bridge application, is designed to allow users to access their corporate email, calendar and other data on the tablet.

Researchers Zach Lanier and Ben Nell of Intrepidus Group were able to locate and grab the authentication token sent between the two devices during Bridge connections and, as an unprivileged user, connect to the PlayBook and access the user’s email and other sensitive information. The key to their finding, which they discussed in a talk at the Infiltrate conference here Thursday, is the fact that the PlayBook’s OS puts the authentication token for the Bridge sessions in a spot that is readable by anyone who knows how to find it.

“While the Bridge is active, the token is in a place that is essentially world readable. The .all file being in a place that is world readable is the thing that causes the problem with the Bridge sessions,” Lanier said.

In order for their attack to work, certain conditions must be present. For example, an app that can access the token must be installed on the PlayBook. A malicious mobile app would satisfy that requirement. Or, if an attacker was able to exploit another flaw on the tablet, he would be able to access that token as well.

In a statement, RIM said that the Bridge flaw will be fixed in version 2.0 of the tablet’s operating system.

“The BlackBerry PlayBook issue described at the Infiltrate security conference has been resolved with BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0, which is scheduled to be available as a free download to customers in February 2012. There are no known exploits, and risk is mitigated by the fact that a user would need to install and run a malicious application after initiating a BlackBerry Bridge connection with their BlackBerry smartphone.”

RIM is touting the PlayBook as the enterprise-ready tablet, and marketing it aggressively to its large installed BlackBerry customer base. The tablet doesn’t currently have a native email client, so users who want to read their corporate email on the PlayBook either need to use a webmail client or connect to their BlackBerry handsets using Bridge.

Given the placement of the Bridge token and its value to an attacker, Lanier and Nell expect the PlayBook to gain interest among both researchers and attackers.

“Now, instead of it just being an unprivileged user who can get to this, now it becomes a high-value target to look for any other bugs in the PlayBook,” Nell said. “They’re protecting these really valuable assets with client-side controls.”

In addition to the Bridge vulnerability, Lanier and Nell also found some interesting issues with the BlackBerry AppWorld app store. For one, they found that the file names in the store are sequential and therefore predictable, so a user could simply increment the file name to a desired number and download whatever app she chose.

This post was updated on Jan. 13 to add RIM’s statement.

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