Goolge has access to WiFi passwords stored in Android mobile devices

Pierluigi Paganini September 19, 2013

Google might have the access to WiFi passwords of customers stored in Android mobile devices due a built-in feature in the Android OS.

Google company might know every WiFi password in the world used by every single Android user, and extraordinary amount of sensitive data could be exposed. According a Michael Horowitz post published on Computer Word it is engough that an Android device has ever logged onto a WiFi network.

Considering the capillary diffusion for the Android OS, that accounted for 79,3% market share at Q2 2013 according International Data Corporation, it is likely that Google can access most WiFi passwords worldwide. According privacy advocates and security experts Android OS has a built-in feature for backup mobile data including WiFi passwords.

Users that have experience with change of devices have noted the possibility to import passwords, personal data, application and device settings and login data, this is possible if they have set up Gmail address and password on their mobile. The data is encrypted and sent to Google data servers, it is accessible only when the user has an authenticated connection to Google.

 “Android devices have defaulted to coughing up WIFi passwords since version 2.2. And, since the feature is presented as a good thing, most people wouldn’t change it.” wrote Horowitz.

Google knows WiFi passwords 2

“The ‘back up my data’ option in Android is very convenient. However it means sending a lot of private information, including passwords, in plaintext to Google. This information is vulnerable to government requests for data,” wrote Micah Lee, staff technologist at privacy warrior outfit the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Obviously users can switch off backup feature but the functionality according to many privacy experts is not properly advertised. In particular a post published on The Register highlighted the leak of information on WiFi password management for backup functionality.

“The list of Wi-Fi networks and passwords stored on a device is likely to extend far beyond a user’s home, and include hotels, shops, libraries, friends’ houses, offices and all manner of other places. Adding this information to the extensive maps of Wi-Fi access points built up over years by Google and others, and suddenly fandroids face a greater risk to their privacy if this data is scrutinised by outside agents.”

Recent revelations about the PRISM surveillance program and on the collaboration “requested” by US authorities to IT giants like Google increase the the concerns of users on their privacy, the interference of governments on online user’s experience has reached levels never touched before.

“Even if Google deletes every copy of your backed up data, they may already have been compelled to share it with others. And, Google will continue to have a copy of the password until every Android device that has ever connected to the network turns off the backing up of settings/data. ” states the post on ComputerWorld with explicit reference to surveillance activities operated by intelligence agencies.

The news on the WiFi password “acquired” by Google came after the recent discovery made by news agency Der Spiegel on the capability of NSA to access to data stored on Smartphone, mobile devices are a powerful instruments considered an appendix our digital and therefore preserves valuable information on our digital experience and real.

We are in the digital era, surveillance and monitoring operated by governments and private companies are becoming environmental practice to be resisted, meaningful the words of Eric Schmidt, Google CEO,on government spying: is the “nature of our society.”

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs –  Privacy, Google, Mobile)  

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