APNewsBreak: South Korea-backed app puts children at risk

21 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

APNewsBreak: South Korea-Backed App Puts 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.

Smart Sheriff’s maker, an association of South Korean mobile operators called MOIBA, acknowledged making mistakes but said it had plugged the holes flagged by researchers and was now making daily security checks. “We were overconfident as there were no security or hacking issues for more than three years,” said Noh Yong-lae, the MOIBA manager in charge of the app. 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. 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. The Korean Communications Commission has promoted Smart Sheriff and schools have sent out letters to parents encouraging them to download the app, which is free.

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. According to the reports, these several security flaws could be exploited on a large scale and affect all of the application’s 380,000 users at once.

But he was scathing about some of the other failures uncovered by Citizen Lab, giving Smart Sheriff’s server infrastructure a security rating of zero out of 10. Lee Kyung-hwa, a mother of two who leads a parents’ group that 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,” she 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.

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