Searching for one’s destiny online — be it a lifelong relationship or a one-night stand — has been pretty common for quite some time.
Dating apps are now part of our everyday life. To find the ideal partner, users of such apps are ready to reveal their name, occupation, place of work, where they like to hang out, and lots more besides.
Dating apps are often privy to things of a rather intimate nature, including the occasional nude photo. But how carefully do these apps handle such data? Experts decided to put them through their security paces. Experts from Kaspersky Lab studied the most popular mobile online dating apps (Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid, Badoo, Mamba, Zoosk, Happn, WeChat, Paktor), and identified the main threats for users.
They informed the developers in advance about all the vulnerabilities detected, and by the time this text was released some had already been fixed, and others were slated for correction in the near future. However, not every developer promised to patch all of the flaws.
Threat 1. Who you are?
Researchers discovered that four of the nine apps they investigated allow potential criminals to figure out who’s hiding behind a nickname based on data provided by users themselves. For example, Tinder, Happn, and Bumble let anyone see a user’s specified place of work or study. Using this information, it’s possible to find their social media accounts and discover their real names. Happn, in particular, uses Facebook accounts for data exchange with the server. With minimal effort, anyone can find out the names and surnames of Happn users and other info from their Facebook profiles.
And if someone intercepts traffic from a personal device with Paktor installed, they might be surprised to learn that they can see the e-mail addresses of other app users. Turns out it is possible to identify Happn and Paktor users in other social media 100% of the time, with a 60% success rate for Tinder and 50% for Bumble.
Threat 2. Where are you?
If someone wants to know your whereabouts, six of the nine apps will lend a hand. Only OkCupid, Bumble, and Badoo keep user location data under lock and key. All of the other apps indicate the distance between you and the person you’re interested in. By moving around and logging data about the distance between the two of you, it’s easy to determine the exact location of the “prey.”
Happn not only shows how many meters separate you from another user, but also the number of times your paths have intersected, making it even easier to track someone down. That’s actually the app’s main feature, as unbelievable as they find it.
Threat 3. Unprotected data transfer
Most apps transfer data to the server over an SSL-encrypted channel, but there are exceptions. As researchers found out, one of the most insecure apps in this respect is Mamba. The analytics module used in the Android version does not encrypt data about the device (model, serial number, etc.), and the iOS version connects to the server over HTTP and transfers all data unencrypted (and thus unprotected), messages included. Such data is not only viewable, but also modifiable. For example, it’s possible for a third party to change “How’s it going?” into a request for money.
Mamba is not the only app that lets you manage someone else’s account on the back of an insecure connection. So does Zoosk. However, researchers were able to intercept Zoosk data only when uploading new photos or videos — and following notification, the developers promptly fixed the problem.
Tinder, Paktor, Bumble for Android, and Badoo for iOS also upload photos via HTTP, which allows an attacker to find out which profiles their potential victim is browsing. When using the Android versions of Paktor, Badoo, and Zoosk, other details — for example, GPS data and device info — can end up in the wrong hands.
Threat 4. Man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack
Almost all online dating app servers use the HTTPS protocol, which means that, by checking certificate authenticity, one can shield against MITM attacks, in which the victim’s traffic passes through a rogue server on its way to the bona fide one. The researchers installed a fake certificate to find out if the apps would check its authenticity; if they didn’t, they were in effect facilitating spying on other people’s traffic.
It turned out that most apps (five out of nine) are vulnerable to MITM attacks because they do not verify the authenticity of certificates. And almost all of the apps authorize through Facebook, so the lack of certificate verification can lead to the theft of the temporary authorization key in the form of a token. Tokens are valid for 2–3 weeks, throughout which time criminals have access to some of the victim’s social media account data in addition to full access to their profile on the dating app.
Threat 5. Superuser rights
Regardless of the exact kind of data the app stores on the device, such data can be accessed with superuser rights. This concerns only Android-based devices; malware able to gain root access in iOS is a rarity.
The result of the analysis is less than encouraging: Eight of the nine applications for Android are ready to provide too much information to cybercriminals with superuser access rights. As such, the researchers were able to get authorization tokens for social media from almost all of the apps in question. The credentials were encrypted, but the decryption key was easily extractable from the app itself.
Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid, Badoo, Happn, and Paktor all store messaging history and photos of users together with their tokens. Thus, the holder of superuser access privileges can easily access confidential information.
The study showed that many dating apps do not handle users’ sensitive data with sufficient care. That’s no reason not to use such services — you simply need to understand the issues and, where possible, minimize the risks.