Baidu Maps could have leaked details of millions of users

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Askobol)

Security researchers have discovered that two hugely popular apps made by Chinese internet giant Baidu have been leaking user details. The data breach affects Baidu Search Box and Baidu Maps, which have collectively been downloaded more than six million times in the US alone.

According to researchers from Unit 42, the global threat intelligence team at Palo Alto Networks, a Baidu software development kit was found to be sending sensitive =data to a Chinese server, including the user's phone model, the IMSI number, and MAC address. 

Although it may seem like a relatively innocuous piece of data,  the IMSI number could enable a bad actor to track a user indefinitely.

“While not a definitive violation of Google’s policy for Android apps, the collection of identifiers, such as the IMSI or MAC address, is discouraged based on Android’s best practice guide.” Stefan Achleitner and Chengcheng Xu, two Palo Alto Networks researchers, explained

“Unit 42 notified Baidu of this discovery. We also reported our findings to Google’s Android team. After a detailed analysis of the reported applications, Google confirmed our findings and identified unspecified violations in the reported Baidu applications.”

Tracked for life

Because the IMSI number identifies an individual through their connection to a cellular network, it is typically associated with a phone’s SIM card. If a cyberattacker gets a hold of this number, it will remain useful to them even if an individual changes device – assuming the SIM card remains the same. Active and passive IMSI catchers can be deployed to listen in on information from phone users.

Unit 42 looked at Android malware associated with data leakages and found similar behavior to that being displayed by the Baidu apps, using SDKs to extract and transmit device data. The team also used machine learning tools to better identify when data was being spied upon.

The disclosure of the data breach by Unit 42 led to both Baidu Search Box and Baidu Maps being removed from Google Play globally on October 28. An altered version of Baidu Search Box was returned to the app store on November 19, while Baidu Maps remains unavailable.

Via Forbes

Barclay Ballard

Barclay has been writing about technology for a decade, starting out as a freelancer with ITProPortal covering everything from London’s start-up scene to comparisons of the best cloud storage services.  After that, he spent some time as the managing editor of an online outlet focusing on cloud computing, furthering his interest in virtualization, Big Data, and the Internet of Things.