APNewsBreak: South Korea-backed app puts children at risk

21 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Canadian researchers help uncover problems with South Korean app putting children at risk.

Security researchers say they found critical weaknesses in a South Korean government-mandated child surveillance app — vulnerabilities that left the private lives of the country’s youngest citizens open to hackers.The Canadian researchers at Citizen Lab said they discovered 26 critical security flaws in the program “Smart Sheriff,” the mandatory South Korean child monitoring app. In separate reports released Sunday, Internet watchdog group Citizen Lab and German software auditing company Cure53 said they found a catalog of worrying problems with “Smart Sheriff,” the most popular of more than a dozen child monitoring programs that South Korea requires for new smartphones sold to minors. However, this case shows precisely how good intentions can end up seriously wrong — in this case, a government-promoted parental monitoring application actually putting children at greater, rather than less, risk of harm.” Researchers said children’s birth dates, phone numbers, browsing history and other personal data were being sent unencrypted.

Sometime afterward, Citizen Lab, based at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, and Cure53, acting on a request from the Washington-based Open Technology Fund, began sifting through Smart Sheriff’s code. The Smart Sheriff app, available for Android and iPhone, helps to let parents know how much time their children are spending on their phones, and remotely block content.

Security researchers have asserted that, due to authentication weaknesses, ‘Smart Sheriff’ app can be easily hijacked, turned off or tricked into sending fake alerts to parents. The researchers also said that since most of the app’s weaknesses can be exploited at scale, thousands or even all of the app’s 380,000 users can potentially be compromised at once.

Researchers were skeptical about the government-mandated program and should require special scrutiny as it monitor the personal moments of young South Koreans. “This situation raises serious concerns under international human rights law, given the potential of this government-supported mobile application to compromise user privacy, and the widespread adoption of the app as a result of the government mandate,” said Sarah McKune, a senior legal adviser, with The Citizen Lab But he was scathing about some of the other failures uncovered by Citizen Lab, giving the Smart Sheriff’s server infrastructure a security rating of zero out of 10.

Lee Kyung-hwa, a mother of two whose Cyber Parents Union On Net endorses child surveillance, says all the app needs is an upgrade. “If they knew that the apps infect and endanger their children, I don’t think any South Korean parents would want their children to have this monitoring app,” he said. Yoon Jiwon told The Associated Press that she had previously been put off by the way in which the battery-hungry app kept sending her misleading alerts about her sons being bullied, prompting her to cross-examine them about each chat and text message, breeding frustration and mistrust.

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