Firefox OS likely to face HTML5, Boot-to-Gecko process attacks

Trend Micro predicts where hackers will look for weak points in the mobile OS

The Firefox OS, a new contender in mobile operating systems, will likely see HTML5-related attacks and assaults on a crucial operating system process, according to security vendor Trend Micro.

Some mobile phone operators are already shipping devices with the Firefox OS, which comes from Mozilla, the nonprofit organization behind the Firefox desktop browser.

Mozilla's Firefox OS seeks to challenge the dominance of Android and iOS, Google and Apple's operating systems. Firefox OS is geared toward high-performance, low-cost phones running applications using the HTML5 web programming language.

Firefox OS borrows much from the Firefox mobile browser and Gecko application framework, which is used to render Web pages and display applications. The platform underpinning Firefox OS, called Boot to Gecko (B2G), borrows 95 percent of its code from the mobile browser and Gecko, according to Mozilla.

The mobile OS uses a Linux kernel, which then boots into the Gecko runtime. The top layer of the technology stack, called Gaia, generates the interface seen by users.

Trend Micro pinpointed what the company believes are avenues for hackers to exploit. As more people use smartphones, attackers are increasingly looking for ways to exploit mobile devices.

Firefox OS is built around HTML5, the latest version of the open standard web programming language that is designed to be more interactive and multimedia friendly.

"Though the Firefox OS may not enjoy the market of the Android OS, the use of HTML5 is gradually gaining traction among users (Amazon also accepts HTML5 for its apps)," wrote Peter Pi, a threats analyst for Trend. "Thus, regardless of OS, we can expect that as more apps and sites will use HTML5, we can expect such attacks to increase in the future."

B2G contains a process within the OS that enforces permissions granted to applications and prevents unauthorized requests by those applications, Pi wrote.

Some applications can request more permissions, but those requests must be verified and signed by an application store, Pi wrote. The B2G process has high privileges and vets those requests. Mozilla has acknowledged B2G is a possible attack vector, he wrote.

"If this process is exploited, an attacker can obtain high-level privileges (like root access)," Pi wrote.

A vulnerability found last month, which was actually fixed in the course of repairing a different flaw in June, caused the B2G process to crash. Pi noted it could have allowed an attacker to run arbitrary code on a device with the same high privileges as the B2G process.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

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