Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Popular iPhone and iPad Apps Appear to Snoop on the System Pasteboard

Talal Haj Bakry and Tommy Mysk:

This article provides an investigation of some popular apps that frequently access the pasteboard without user consent. These apps range from popular games and social networking apps, to news apps of major news organizations. We found that many apps quietly read any text found in the pasteboard every time the app is opened. Text left in the pasteboard could be as simple as a shopping list, or could be something more sensitive: passwords, account numbers, etc.

The clipboard is a well-known security risk on all popular platforms — including the web. Not only is it available across the system, it is expected to be in every app with reading and writing capabilities.

Most apps do not breach user trust in this manner, so it is surprising to see the breadth of very popular apps that are doing so in this case — many of which have no practical reason for reading pasteboard data in the first place. It’s the kind of thing that makes me wonder if they are all, perhaps, using a shared development framework or analytics bundle.

One way to resolve this may be to require consent from the user before the app can access the pasteboard. That consent can be provided in the form of the user tapping the paste button, upon which point the app is authorized.