An Empirical Study of Web Resource Manipulation in Real-world Mobile Applications


Mobile apps have become the main channel for accessing Web services. Both Android and iOS feature in-app Web browsers that support convenient Web service integration through a set of Web resource manipulation APIs. Previous work have revealed the attack surfaces of Web resource manipulation APIs and proposed several defense mechanisms. However, none of them provides evidence that such attacks indeed happen in the real world, measures their impacts, and evaluates the proposed defensive techniques against real attacks. This paper seeks to bridge this gap with a large-scale empirical study on Web resource manipulation behaviors in real-world Android apps. To this end, we first define the problem as cross-principal manipulation (XPM) of Web resources, and then design an automated tool named XPMChecker to detect XPM behaviors in apps. Through a study on 80,694 apps from Google Play, we find that 49.2% of manipulation cases are XPM, 4.8% of the apps have XPM behaviors, and more than 70% XPM behaviors aim at top Web sites. More alarmingly, we discover 21 apps with obvious malicious intents, such as stealing and abusing cookies, collecting user credentials and impersonating legitimate parties. For the first time, we show the presence of XPM threats in real-world apps. We also confirm the existence of such threats in iOS apps. Our experiments show that popular Web service providers are largely unaware of such threats. Our measurement results contribute to better understanding of such threats and the development of more effective and usable countermeasures.

Proceedings of the 27th USENIX Security Symposium