Back to overview

Web APIs in Android through the Lens of Security

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Proceedings (peer-reviewed)
Author Gadient Pascal, Ghafari Mohammad, Tarnutzer Marc-Andrea, Nierstrasz Oscar,
Project Agile Software Assistance
Show all

Proceedings (peer-reviewed)

Title of proceedings 27th edition of the IEEE International Conference on Software Analysis, Evolution and Reengineering (SANER)
DOI 10.1109/saner48275.2020.9054850

Open Access

Type of Open Access Repository (Green Open Access)


Web communication has become an indispensable characteristic of mobile apps. However, it is not clear what data the apps transmit, to whom, and what consequences such transmissions have. We analyzed the web communications found in mobile apps from the perspective of security. We first manually studied 160 Android apps to identify the commonly-used communication libraries, and to understand how they are used in these apps. We then developed a tool to statically identify web API URLs used in the apps, and restore the JSON data schemas including the type and value of each parameter. We extracted 9,714 distinct web API URLs that were used in 3,376 apps. We found that developers often use the package for network communication, however, third-party libraries like OkHttp are also used in many apps. We discovered that insecure HTTP connections are seven times more prevalent in closed-source than in open-source apps, and that embedded SQL and JavaScript code is used in web communication in more than 500 different apps. This finding is devastating; it leaves billions of users and API service providers vulnerable to attack.