Yesterday, Ars Technica posted an article explaining that Android was found to be vulnerable to a UI interference attack.

This claim originates from a paper published by Alfred Chen et al. of the University of Michigan a few days ago, which states that other operating systems are likely vulnerable to this same attack.

In fact, this design is not specific to Android: nearly all popular OSes such as Mac OS X, iOS, and Windows also adopt this shared-memory mechanism for their window managers. Thus, we believe that our attack on Android is likely to be generalizable to other platforms.

Chen et al. show that these attacks can be used to steal login information or other sensitive information from unsuspecting users with relatively high success rates.

In our evaluation, we show that for 6 out of 7 popular Android apps, the UI state interference accuracies are 80-90% for the first candidate UI states, and over 93% for the top 3 candidates.

This sounds like it could pose an immediate and serious risk to the privacy of smartphone and PC users. What can be done to minimize vulnerability and protect oneself against a UI state interference attack?

  • This is a duplicate of these other questions, security.stackexchange.com/questions/66010/…, security.stackexchange.com/questions/65975/… – RoraΖ Aug 25 '14 at 18:25
  • That first one is related, but not the same. The second does appear to be the same, but it leaves out so much detail that it sounds like the security flaw is within Gmail and has nothing to do with the operating system. What's the best course of action here? – Brian Aug 25 '14 at 18:54
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    The best course of action is to not install untrustworthy applications. It's like any other basic security procedure. Be careful on what applications/programs you install. I know it seems like a co-out, but until mobile antiviruses are able to detect this specific technique it's the only way to protect yourself. – RoraΖ Aug 25 '14 at 19:11
  • Well that helps answer my actual question, but when I asked what the best course of action is, I meant for handling my question being a duplicate of another question that appears to be low quality. – Brian Aug 25 '14 at 19:49

The core of the attack is to monitor another application's memory usage, spot a pattern that means "this application just opened a password-request window", and pop up the attacker's clone of that window in front of the real window.

For windowed operating systems (Windows, MacOSX, desktop Linux), one solution is focus stealing protection: prevent a non-foreground application from placing a window in front of the foreground window. Some Linux window managers (eg. KDE) have focus-stealing protection. Windows and MacOSX only prevent accidental stealing; intentional focus stealing is not prevented.

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