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M2: Insecure Data Storage

The Android ecosystem provides several ways to store data for an app. The kind of storage used by developers depends on the kind of data stored, the usage of the data, and also whether the data should be kept private or shared to other apps.

Data in Android can be stored in:

  • App-specific storage: dedicated directories within internal or external storage than enable developers to store files that are meant to be used by the app only;
  • Shared storage: directories that contains files that are meant to to be shared by multiple apps;
  • KeyStore: a secure way to store cryptographic keys, and other sensitive information.

Data is typically stored in the following formats:

  • SQLite Databases: the preferred way to store structure data in app-specific directories;
  • Shared Preferences: an Android API that helps developers store key-pair values in a dedicated directory inside internal storage.

Unfortunately, it is very common to find sensitive information stored in clear text. For instance, it is frequent to find API keys, passwords, and Personally Identifiable Information (PII) stored on the Shared Preferences or databases used by the app.

In the case of the Goatlin app, when a user performs a sign up, the credentials are stored locally inside the database. Here is the extract of the SignupActivity class showing the creation of the account and how it is stored into the database:

 * Attempts to create a new account on back-end
private fun attemptSignup() {
    val name: String =
    val email: String =
    val password: String = this.password.text.toString()
    val confirmPassword: String = this.confirmPassword.text.toString()

    if (confirmPassword != password) {
        this.confirmPassword.error = "Passwords don't match"

    val account: Account = Account(name, email, password)

    val call: Call<Void> = apiService.signup(account)
    call.enqueue(object: Callback<Void> {
        override fun onFailure(call: Call<Void>, t: Throwable) {
            Log.e("SingupActivity", t.message.toString())

        override fun onResponse(call: Call<Void>, response: Response<Void>) {
            val emailField: AutoCompleteTextView = findViewById(
            var message:String = ""

            when (response.code()) {
                201 -> {
                    if (createLocalAccount(account)) {
                        val intent = Intent(this@SignupActivity,

                    } else {
                        message = "Failed to create local account"
                409 -> {
                    message = "This account already exists"
                    emailField.error = message
                else -> {
                    message = "Failed to create account"

When the app receives a response from the back-end with the HTTP code 201, the function createLocalAccount() is called. As shown below, this function only adds the username and password into the database:

 * Creates local account
private fun createLocalAccount(account: Account): Boolean {
    return DatabaseHelper(applicationContext).createAccount(,

Here is the code of the createAccount() function provided by the DatabaseHelper class:

public fun createAccount(username: String, password: String) : Boolean {
    val db: SQLiteDatabase = this.writableDatabase
    val record: ContentValues = ContentValues()
    var status = true

    record.put("username", username) record.put("password", password)

    try {
        db.insertOrThrow(TABLE_ACCOUNTS, null, record)
    } catch (e: SQLException) {
        Log.e("Database signup", e.toString())
        status = false
    } finally {
        return status

In the same manner, we can observe that the credentials are checked locally by retrieving the credentials stored inside the database. Here is an extract of the LoginActivity class where the check is made:

override fun doInBackground(vararg params: Void): Boolean? {
    if ((mUsername == "Supervisor") and (mPassword == "MySuperSecretPassword123!")){
        return true
    } else {
        try {
            val account: Account = DatabaseHelper(applicationContext).getAccount(mUsername)

            if (mPassword == account.password) {
                val prefs: SharedPreferences = applicationContext.getSharedPreferences(
                    applicationContext.packageName, Context.MODE_PRIVATE)
                val editor: SharedPreferences.Editor = prefs.edit()

                editor.putString("userEmail", mUsername).apply()

            return > -1
        } catch(e: Exception) {
            return false

The app retrieves the account stored in the database by using the getAccount() function. If the password stored in the database matches the password provided by the user, the authentication is successful.

An attacker able to access the database of the app (rooting the device, backup of the app, etc.) can retrieve the credentials of the different users using the app.

In this example, since this database is stored under /data/data/ we can fetch it as such:

~ adb exec-out run-as cat /data/data/ > /tmp/kotlin-goat.sqlite

Using sqlitebrowser, it is easy to inspect the content of an SQLite database. Here is the content of the Accounts table used by the app:

Viewing the content of the Goatlin database

As discussed before, we can confirm that the passwords are stored in clear text without using any encryption mechanism.