Security and Privacy flaw in UC Browser leaks personally identifiable information

A visual summary of privacy and security issues presented by UC Browser. PC: Citizen Lab

A report has shown that a security and privacy flaw in a popular mobile web browser in India and China – Transmits users’ personal and other information without encryption.

The report titled “A Chatty Squirrel: An Analysis of Privacy and Security Issues with UC Browser” has revealed that Chinese and English-language versions of UC Browser for Android, a mobile web browser which is owned by a China-based company Alibaba.com, allows any network operator or in-path actor on the network to get the user’s personally identifiable information like location, search details and mobile subscriber and device ids.

The application is using symmetric AES/CBC encryption for sending device IDs,location data, Wi-Fi Mac Address, SSID and other information rather than encryption. The key ‘autonavi_amaploc’ used for the encryption is Hard-coded in the application.

“The use of symmetric encryption with a hard-coded key means that anyone who knows the key can decrypt UC Browser (Chinese) traffic in transit. Moreover, key holders can also retroactively decrypt any historical data that they have collected or obtained.” The report reads.

Personal identifiers like IMEI, IMSI, android id, build serial number is being transferred to Umeng (a mobile analytics service) in an unecrypted form.

The transmission of unencrypted search engine queries enables third parties to monitor searches. Sensitive personal information can be inferred from search results including health conditions like pregnancy, disease, mental and psychological conditions, marital relations, and medical information. Third parties can use it to develop, use, and sell user profiles and by corporate or government agents to modify or prevent access to certain search results.

“We informed our findings to Alibab on April 15, 2015 and we would publish this report on or after April 29, 2015. The company responded on April 19, 2015, indicating that Alibaba security engineers were investigating the issue. We followed up on April 23, 2015 to reiterate our intention to publish this report on or after April 29, 2015,” the report said.

The report added that on May 19, 2015 they tested version 10.4.1-576 of the Chinese language version of UC Browser, which was downloaded from the uc.cn website. However, the version does not appear to send location data insecurely to AMAP.

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