New tool reveals security and privacy issues with contact tracing apps

Researchers have developed a tool to identify security and privacy risks associated with Covid-19 contact tracing apps.

COVIDGuardian, the first automated security and privacy assessment tool, tests contact tracing apps for potential threats such as malware, embedded trackers and private information leakage.

Using the COVIDGuardian tool, cybersecurity experts assessed 40 Covid-19 contact tracing apps that have been employed worldwide for potential privacy and security threats. Their findings include that:

  • 72.5 per cent of the apps use at least one insecure cryptographic algorithm.
  • Three quarters of apps contained at least one tracker that reports information to third parties such as Facebook Analytics or Google Firebase.
  • Whilst most apps were free of malware, the Kyrgyzstan app Stop COVID-19 KG was discovered to have malware. 

Following their analysis, the researchers released the results to vendors. Further testing later found that privacy and security weaknesses on four apps had been fixed, and one vulnerable app was found to no longer be available.

Dr Gareth Tyson, Senior Lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, said: "With the pandemic there was a rapid need for contact tracing apps to support efforts to control the spread of Covid-19. Unsurprisingly we found that this had resulted in some relatively mainstream security bugs being introduced worldwide. Some of the most common risks relate to the use of out-of-date cryptographic algorithms and the storage of sensitive information in plain text formats that could be read by potential attackers."

"Our work is helping developers to address these problems. Through COVIDGuardian we've produced a tool that can be used by developers to discover and fix potential weaknesses in their apps and share guidelines that will help to ensure user privacy and security is maintained."

To support this work the researchers also performed a survey involving over 370 individuals to understand the likelihood that they would use a contact tracing app and highlight concerns around their use. The results suggested that the privacy and accuracy of contact tracing apps had the biggest impact on whether individuals would use the app.

As part of the survey, volunteers were also asked about their preferences with regards to decentralised and centralised apps. Dr Tyson, said: "Security and privacy concerns have been a big issue affecting the uptake of these apps. We were surprised that the debate around decentralised vs centralised apps didn't seem so important and, instead, users were more focused on the exact details of what private information is collected. This should encourage developers to offer stronger privacy guarantees for their apps."

###

Notes to editors

* Research publication: 'An Empirical Assessment of Global COVID-19 Contact Tracing Applications' Ruoxi Sun, Wei Wang, Minhui Xue, Gareth Tyson, Seyit Camtepez, Damith C. Ranasinghe.

* The paper will be presented at the International Conference on Software Engineering on May 23-29 2021. A copy of the paper is available at: https://arxiv.org/abs/2006.10933.

About Queen Mary

Queen Mary University of London is a research-intensive university that connects minds worldwide. A member of the prestigious Russell Group, we work across the humanities and social sciences, medicine and dentistry, and science and engineering, with inspirational teaching directly informed by our world-leading research. In the most recent Research Excellence Framework we were ranked 5th in the country for the proportion of research outputs that were world-leading or internationally excellent. We have over 25,000 students and offer more than 240 degree programmes. Our reputation for excellent teaching was rewarded with silver in the most recent Teaching Excellence Framework. Queen Mary has a proud and distinctive history built on four historic institutions stretching back to 1785 and beyond. Common to each of these institutions - the London Hospital Medical College, St Bartholomew's Medical College, Westfield College and Queen Mary College - was the vision to provide hope and opportunity for the less privileged or otherwise under-represented. Today, Queen Mary University of London remains true to that belief in opening the doors of opportunity for anyone with the potential to succeed and helping to build a future we can all be proud of.



Filters close

Showing results

110 of 5845
Released: 17-Jun-2021 4:15 PM EDT
UNC Researchers Lead Study of Diabetes Treatment of COVID-19 Patients
University of North Carolina School of Medicine

Diabetes is one of the comorbidities most strongly associated with severe COVID-19 in the US, and data from early in the pandemic suggested individuals with type 2 diabetes faced twice the risk of death from COVID-19 and a greater risk of requiring hospitalization and intensive care. A new study shows best treatment options.

Released: 17-Jun-2021 4:10 PM EDT
Vaccination, Previous Infection, Protect Against COVID-19 gamma/P.1 Variant in Animal Model
University of Wisconsin-Madison

In a new study using variant virus recovered from one of the original travelers, researchers in the U.S. and Japan have found that vaccination with an mRNA vaccine induces antibody responses that would protect humans from infection with the gamma/P.1 variant.

Newswise:Video Embedded virtual-event-for-june-17-11am-edt-covid-19-vaccines-and-male-fertility
VIDEO
Released: 17-Jun-2021 3:20 PM EDT
VIDEO AVAILABLE: Vaccines and Male Fertility Event for June 17, 2021
Newswise

This upcoming JAMA-published study examined whether the COVID-19 vaccine impacts male fertility.

Released: 17-Jun-2021 1:30 PM EDT
Hackensack Meridian Doctors, Student Help Establish Way to Prioritize Surgeries During COVID-19 lockdown
Hackensack Meridian Health

The MeNTS method of prioritizing surgeries during the height of pandemic, developed by University of Chicago, helped procedures continue during time of need

Released: 17-Jun-2021 12:55 PM EDT
‘Nanodecoy’ Therapy Binds and Neutralizes SARS-CoV-2 Virus
North Carolina State University

Nanodecoys made from human lung spheroid cells (LSCs) can bind to and neutralize SARS-CoV-2, promoting viral clearance and reducing lung injury in a macaque model of COVID-19.

access_time Embargo lifts in 2 days
Embargo will expire: 21-Jun-2021 11:00 AM EDT Released to reporters: 17-Jun-2021 12:10 PM EDT

A reporter's PressPass is required to access this story until the embargo expires on 21-Jun-2021 11:00 AM EDT The Newswise PressPass gives verified journalists access to embargoed stories. Please log in to complete a presspass application. If you have not yet registered, please Register. When you fill out the registration form, please identify yourself as a reporter in order to advance to the presspass application form.

Newswise: Blood Cancer Patients with COVID-19 Fare Better with Convalescent Plasma
Released: 17-Jun-2021 11:55 AM EDT
Blood Cancer Patients with COVID-19 Fare Better with Convalescent Plasma
Washington University in St. Louis

A large, retrospective, multicenter study involving Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis indicates that convalescent plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients can dramatically improve likelihood of survival among blood cancer patients hospitalized with the virus. The therapy involves transfusing plasma — the pale yellow liquid in blood that is rich in antibodies — from people who have recovered from COVID-19 into patients who have leukemia, lymphoma or other blood cancers and are hospitalized with the viral infection.

Released: 17-Jun-2021 11:05 AM EDT
Stress during pandemic linked to poor sleep
Washington State University

Many people likely lost sleep over COVID-19. A study of twins led by Washington State University researchers found that stress, anxiety and depression during the first few weeks of the pandemic were associated with less and lower quality sleep.

Newswise:Video Embedded university-of-miami-miller-school-study-shows-covid-19-mrna-vaccines-do-not-impact-male-fertility
VIDEO
Released: 17-Jun-2021 11:00 AM EDT
University of Miami Miller School Study Shows COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines Do Not Impact Male Fertility
University of Miami Health System, Miller School of Medicine

The Pfizer and Moderna mRNA COVID-19 vaccines is safe for male reproduction, according to a new study by University of Miami Miller School of Medicine researchers published in JAMA , the most widely circulated general medical journal in the world.

15-Jun-2021 1:20 PM EDT
Higher COVID-19 Mortality Among Black Patients Linked to Unequal Hospital Quality
Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

If Black patients were admitted to the same hospitals that serve a majority of White patients, researchers showed their risk of death would drop by 10 percent


Showing results

110 of 5845

close
1.56103