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Evan Schuman: Your data exposed -- Delta, Facebook, others latest to fall into mobile app trap and eHarmony also among those now saying, 'We didn't know our mobile apps did that'

By Evan Schuman
February 18, 2014 08:02 AM ET

Computerworld - Mobile apps are presenting far too many surprises. Users who love the apps on their smartphones and tablets have no idea how much data those apps are retaining, or how easy it would be for someone else to access that data. But consumers aren't the only ones in the dark. Mobile's data dangers are also largely unknown to IT executives, app developers, marketers -- pretty much everyone, really.

The latest app providers to say as much include Delta Air Lines, Facebook, eHarmony and

And what has happened with the Delta app over the past few days, since a security researcher found a wide range of problems with major Android mobile apps, illustrates that major companies are clueless about mobile security issues.

The Android mobile app for Delta properly encrypts all data on the app. Unfortunately, Delta was including the decryption key in the app's decompiled source code (oops!) , according to security researcher Godfrey Nolan, who runs a mobile app development and security audit company called RIIS and is the author of Android Best Practices. When we contacted Delta on Friday (Feb. 14), the company was unaware that its app displayed the encryption key, but it tested it and confirmed that it did. The company worked through the weekend and issued a patch for its Android app yesterday (Feb. 17).

The intent of the patch was to remove the encryption key from an area where anyone can access it. Instead, a review of Delta's updated code by Nolan yesterday revealed that the airline simply moved the encryption key from its code to a shared preference file -- a move that does nothing to make the key any more difficult to access. Delta correctly said that the move had the effect of making each key "uniquely generated for each device," but that doesn't really help. Anyone with access to the phone can still decrypt the password and anything else.

"It literally took me two minutes to find where it was," Nolan said, after he reviewed Delta's updated code. "What they apparently thought was 'If we take it out of the file, nobody can decompile the file.' They have no idea that I can back up the shared preferences file. All they did was move it from A to B and they don't think that anyone can get at B. But everyone can get at B."

Like all companies, Delta wants you to know that it takes data security seriously. In a statement issued yesterday, Delta spokesperson Paul Skrbec said, "We take all reports of potential security risks very seriously, regardless of the nature or risk level. Security is a top priority for Delta and we routinely perform activities to ensure data privacy for our customers even amidst rapid changes in technology which have the potential to expose vulnerabilities."

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