Samsung criticized the findings of researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel who took aim at the smartphone maker’s KNOX security solution.
Embedded in the Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone, KNOX gives users the ability to enforce the separation of information using containers. It also includes secure boot and kernel monitoring capabilities.
According to the researchers, KNOX’s secure container fails to ensure data and communications that take place within the container are protected from unauthorized access. Instead, they were able to install an application that intercepted and exposed communications.
In response to the findings, Samsung said in a statement to the media that the researchers’ exploit uses legitimate Google Android network functions “in an unintended way to intercept unencrypted network connections from/to applications on the mobile device.”
“This research did not identify a flaw or bug in Samsung KNOX or Android; it demonstrated a classic Man in the Middle (MitM) attack, which is possible at any point on the network to see unencrypted application data,” according to Samsung. “The research specifically showed this is also possible via a user-installed program, reaffirming the importance of encrypting application data before sending it to the Internet. Android development practices encourage that this be done by each application using SSL/TLS.”
“Where that’s not possible (for example, to support standards-based unencrypted protocols, such as HTTP), Android provides built-in VPN and support for third-party VPN solutions to protect data,” Samsung continued. “Use of either of those standard security technologies would have prevented an attack based on a user-installed local application.”
Mobile device management (MDM) can also be configured on KNOX devices to protect against the attack as well.
“MDM is a feature that ensures that a device containing sensitive information is set up correctly according to an enterprise-specified policy and is available in the standard Android platform,” Samsung noted. “KNOX enhances the platform by adding many additional policy settings, including the ability to lock down security-sensitive device settings. With an MDM configured device, when the attack tries to change these settings, the MDM agent running on the device would have blocked them. In that case, the exploit would not have worked.”