Masterclass: Hacking the Mobile Ecosystem

On the 15 May 2015, over 20 participants turned up for the Our Data, Ourselves Master Class on Android phone application hacking. The class began with an introduction to the project from Giles Greenway, who presented his work on mobile app data mining and introduced guest expert speaker, security researcher Darren Martyn. Throughout the morning’s hands-on session, Darren led the participants through the process of using the Android application development kit (ADK) via a virtual machine, downloading Android application package (.apk) files, and examining their contents.

IMG_20150515_102747Participants were then each given unlocked Android phones and instructed on how to put them into “developer mode”, enabling them to connect to the development tools on their laptops. Using the Wireshark network analysis tool, they were then able to view detailed information about exactly what each application was doing when it accessed the internet, and to tell whether or not a given app “phoned home” when it might not otherwise be expected to. A variety of popular and not-so-popular apps were examined, including Instagram, WhatsApp, Buscountdown, and ad-supported games such as Maze.

Attendees came from a wide range of backgrounds. Approximately half had prior experience with the Android app ecosystem, and roughly half were students at King’s. Among the students in attendance, only two studied computer science, with the remaining hailing from Digital Culture and Society (DCS) and Digital Asset and Media Management (DAMM). Among the non-students, many had come along due to an interest in Big Data and data analysis.

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