Injecting Malicious Code Into HTML5-Based Apps

Scanning 2D barcodes, finding free Wi-Fi access points, sending SMS messages, listening to music, and watching MP4 videos: these are very common activities that we do using our smartphones. Can you imagine that simply doing these things can get your smarphones infected with "worms" that can not only steal personal information from your phone, but also infect your friends's phones.

Sound scary? It will not be long before worms like this spread among smartphones. What makes the attacks feasible is an emerging technology called HTML5-based app development, and it has been rapidly gaining popularity in the mobile industry. When the adoption of this technology reaches certain threshold, attacks like this will become quite common, unless we do something to stop it. A recent Gartner report says that by 2016, fifty percent of the mobile apps will be using HTML5-based technologies.

What platforms are affected?

All major mobile systems will be affected, including Android, iOS, Blackberry, Windows Phone, etc., because they all support HTML5-based mobile apps.

A notorious problem of the HTML5-based technology is that malicious code can be easily injected into the program and get executed. That is why the Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) attack is still one of the most common attacks in the Web. XSS attacks can only target at web applications through a single channel (i.e. the Internet), but with the adoption of the same technology in mobile devices, we have found out that a similar type of attack can not only be launched against mobile apps, it can attack from many channels, including 2D barcode, Wi-Fi scanning, Bluetooth pairing, MP3 songs, MP4 videos, SMS messages, NFC tags, Contact list, etc. As long as an HTML5-based app displays information obtained from outside or from anohter app, it may be a potential victim.


Xing Jin, Xunchao Hu, Kailiang Ying, Wenliang Du, Heng Yin and Gautam Nagesh Peri. Code Injection Attacks on HTML5-based Mobile Apps: Characterization, Detection and Mitigation. To appear in Proceedings of the 21st ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security (CCS), Scottsdale, Arizona, USA. November 3 - 7, 2014.(pdf|slides)