Rogue Korean child-mon­i­tor­ing app is back, re­searchers say

The Myanmar Times - - Business | International -

A SOUTH Korean child-mon­i­tor­ing smart­phone app that was re­moved from the mar­ket in 2015 af­ter it was found to be rid­dled with se­cu­rity flaws has been reis­sued un­der a new name and still puts chil­dren at risk, re­searchers said Mon­day.

The app “Cy­ber Se­cu­rity Zone” is part of govern­ment ef­forts to curb what au­thor­i­ties con­sider ex­ces­sive cell­phone use by young peo­ple. Par­ents are re­quired by law to in­stall mon­i­tor­ing soft­ware on smart­phones for all chil­dren 18 and un­der. The app is al­most iden­ti­cal to a pre­vi­ous sys­tem, “Smart Sher­iff,” which left chil­dren’s pri­vate in­for­ma­tion vul­ner­a­ble to hack­ers, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­net watch­dog Cit­i­zen Lab at the Univer­sity of Toronto. Both were de­vel­oped un­der the aus­pices of MOIBA, the in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tion for South Korean cell­phone ser­vice providers.

“The flaws in the apps open the door to pos­si­ble breaches of sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion in­clud­ing pass­words, phone num­bers, and other user data,” Cit­i­zen Lab said in a state­ment.

“Smart Sher­iff” was one of a fam­ily of apps in­tended to mon­i­tor chil­dren’s on­line be­hav­ior. Some, like Smart Sher­iff, act as fil­ter­ing or block­ing tools, while oth­ers send alerts to par­ents if chil­dren swear or talk about sex or bul­ly­ing.

The apps have raised pri­vacy ac­tivists’ hack­les, but ex­perts have also been scathing about their lack of se­cu­rity. Cure53, a Ger­man au­dit­ing firm, said in 2015 that Smart Sher­iff was “fun­da­men­tally bro­ken.”

Cit­i­zen Lab and Cure53 now say the app ap­pears to have been re­branded as “Cy­ber Se­cu­rity Zone” the equiv­a­lent of putting a fresh coat of paint on a dan­ger­ous old clunker. “Users are be­ing mis­led,” said the Cit­i­zen Lab re­port.

MOIBA de­nied the two sys­tems were the same and an of­fi­cial of the group said a re­view by the govern­ment’s Korean In­ter­net & Se­cu­rity Agency found se­cu­rity for “Cy­ber Se­cu­rity Zone” sat­is­fac­tory.

“We can­not agree to the opin­ion that the ap­pli­ca­tion was not de­vel­oped with se­cu­rity in mind,” said the of­fi­cial, Noh Yong-lae. Noh said MOIBA cut ties with the de­vel­oper of “Smart Sher­iff” and hired another com­pany to up­date and de­velop apps.

KISA of­fi­cials who looked at the Cit­i­zen Lab re­port said their agency’s au­dit failed to catch at least one se­cu­rity lapse: the app›s de­vel­oper had not en­crypted a key to the pass­word. That stemmed from the app’s de­sign.

“They should not have built the app this way,” said Kim Chan-il, a KISA manager. He said the govern­ment and MOIBA should make sure to hire de­vel­op­ers who pay at­ten­tion to se­cu­rity and have enough time to build an app. An au­dit by KISA “does not guar­an­tee se­cu­rity against all weak­nesses,” Kim said.

Rates of smart­phone and in­ter­net use in South Korea are among the world’s high­est. The govern­ment op­er­ates fil­ters to block ac­cess to pro-North Korean web­sites and ma­te­rial deemed porno­graphic. South Korean au­thor­i­ties be­lieve mon­i­tor­ing and cen­sor­ing chil­dren’s smart­phone use is part of the state’s duty to pro­tect teenagers against harm­ful con­tent such as pornog­ra­phy.

There is broad pub­lic sup­port for the govern­ment to stop on­line be­hav­ior that is deemed to be an ad­dic­tion. The govern­ment spends pub­lic money to help users break habits of ex­ces­sive com­puter gam­ing and in­ter­net use.

The back­lash to “Smart Sher­iff ” prompted the govern­ment to ease en­force­ment by propos­ing a bill in par­lia­ment that would al­low par­ents to opt out of in­stalling a mon­i­tor­ing de­vice.

The pro­posal “shows the govern­ment ac­knowl­edges its orig­i­nal po­si­tion was wrong, but it’s not enough,” said Kelly Kim, gen­eral coun­sel at OpenNet Korea, a civic group, who co-au­thored the Cit­i­zen Lab re­port. “The man­date is un­con­sti­tu­tional and should be abol­ished.”

The child sur­veil­lance apps are part of a “clean in­ter­net” cam­paign launched by the govern­ment with MOIBA since 2013. MOIBA re­ceived nearly 963 mil­lion won ($853,000) this year for the cam­paign.

The South Korean tele­com reg­u­la­tor, Korea Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion, has pro­moted the two apps de­vel­oped by MOIBA among teach­ers, par­ents and stu­dents. De­spite that, the app has re­ceived many neg­a­tive re­views. The chil­dren’s ver­sion has been down­loaded about 6,000 times and the par­ent ver­sion about 30,000 times.

A com­mis­sion of­fi­cial, Kwon Man­sub, said if new se­cu­rity risks are found, the govern­ment is will­ing to re­view them. “By law, we have a duty to pro­tect ju­ve­niles,” Kwon said.

‘Smart Sher­iff ” was one of a fam­ily of apps in­tended to mon­i­tor chil­dren’s on­line be­hav­ior. Some, like Smart Sher­iff, act as fil­ter­ing or block­ing tools, while oth­ers send alerts to par­ents if chil­dren swear or talk about sex or bul­ly­ing.’

Photo: AP

A pro­mo­tional ban­ner of mo­bile apps that block harm­ful contents, is posted on the door at a mo­bile store in Seoul, South Korea in May 2015. The ban­ner reads: “Young smart­phone users, you must in­stall apps that block harm­ful con­tent.”

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