10-Year-Old Outs Security Flaw in iOS and Android Games
By Matt Peckham
PCWorldAug 8, 2011 4:30 am PDT
A 10-year-old California hacker just figured out what a bunch of developers apparently couldn’t: How to hack various mobile phone and tablet based games by simply fiddling with the clock. And she just told all at the first annual DefCon Kids hacker conference—a subset of DEFCON, the self-identified “world’s longest running and largest underground hacking conference”—which wrapped yesterday in Las Vegas.
You know this one. Some piece of trial software has an expiry date, so you check, just to see, if you can extend the trial by turning back your computer’s clock a few days, weeks, or months. Except it never works, because developers have long since put clock-cheat countermeasures in place to prevent you from “time-traveling.”
Or maybe they haven’t, according to the 10-year-old, who calls herself CyFi, and who discovered last January, out of boredom, that changing the clock settings exposes an exploitable security loophole, or “zero-day flaw.” Apparently the farming games she was playing weren’t moving along fast enough.
“It was hard to make progress in the game, because it took so long for things to grow,” she told CNET just before presenting. “So I thought, ‘Why don’t I just change the time?'”
In her presentation brief, titled “Apps – A Traveler of Both Time and Space (And What I Learned About Zero-Days and Responsible Disclosure),” CyFi says she loves apps, and that “in the app world, I can control both time and space,” writing:
The world of apps has obvious[ly] not thought about security, yet. Here is an import[ant] lesson they can learn from a Girl Scout. I’ll show a new class of vulnerabilities I call TimeTraveler.
By controlling time, you can do many things, such as grow pum[p]kins instantly. This technique enables endless possibilities. I’ll show you how. Wanna play a game? Let’s find some zero-days! (Cuz it’s fun!)
CyFi’s “hack” involved more than simply bumping the clock randomly, too. She figured out circumventing anti-cheat mechanisms was only possible if she first did things like disconnect the device from Wi-Fi and advance its clock by small increments.
While CyFi’s exploit has been verified independently, she’s doing the responsible thing and keeping mum about the particulars, to give game developers time to close the security hole.