Let's Talk Money: Evaluating the Security Challenges of Mobile Money in the Developing World

Sam Castle, Fahad Pervaiz, Galen Weld, Franziska Roesner, Richard Anderson
Digital money drives modern economies, and the global adoption of mobile phones has enabled a wide range of digital financial services in the developing world. Where there is money, there must be security, yet prior work on mobile money has identified discouraging vulnerabilities in the current ecosystem. We begin by arguing that the situation is not as dire as it may seem---many reported issues can be resolved by security best practices and updated mobile software. To support this argument, we diagnose the problems from two directions: (1) a large-scale analysis of existing financial service products and (2) a series of interviews with 7 developers and designers in Africa and South America. We frame this assessment within a novel, systematic threat model. In our large-scale analysis, we evaluate 197 Android apps and take a deeper look at 71 products to assess specific organizational practices. We conclude that although attack vectors are present in many apps, service providers are generally making intentional, security-conscious decisions. The developer interviews support these findings, as most participants demonstrated technical competency and experience, and all worked within established organizations with regimented code review processes and dedicated security teams.