It has been revealed that phones running Google's Android OS actually store passwords in plain text potentially leaving them open to hackers.
The passwords for user's email accounts are currently saved into the SQLite database in Google's software in a plain text format, without any added encryption. This means that they are effectively being stored as they are written, meaning that anyone with access to the database will also have access to the users email address.
The problem was first brought to light in the issues section of Google's site.
Responding to the news, Google employee Andy Stadler indicated that the lack of encryption on the password files was done out of necessity. The post by Stadler indicated that if they were encrypted the stored passwords would not work on email providers running on the POP3, IMAP, SMTP and Exchange ActiveSync protocols. If encrypted despite being stored these protocols would force the user to re-enter their password, thus making stored passwords redundant.
It's only newer email protocols that save a password token that allow users to access their account using stored, encrypted passwords. The tokens work by saving the users permissions, allowing the protocol to give the user access without the need to retrieve the password from the SQLite database.
In the issues section many Google users have since asked that the company change it so that all stored passwords are encrypted. Google has since said it is working to fix the problem.
"We recognize that this is causing concern for some users, and we're going to look at identifying steps that can make your data more secure," commented Google engineer Stadler.
However, as pointed out by CNET U.K. this may not be the best way forward. Many security experts have argued that even if encrypted, a keen and knowledgeable enough hacker would still be able to get the password even if it was encrypted.
Even more interestingly, some developers, have gone so far as to argue that encrypted passwords are actually more likely to be hacked than unencrypted ones.
The developers argue that the use of encyption lulls the user into a false sense of security, making them feel safe performing certain actions they otherwise wouldn't -- clicking on a dubious looking link for example.
For this reason developers have sometimes argued that encryption simply obscures rather than solves the security problem. As Stadler puts it:
"Simply obscuring your password (e.g. base64) or encrypting it with a key stored elsewhere will *not* make your password or your data more secure. An attacker will still be able to retrieve it.
"In particular, some claims have been made about some of the other email clients not storing the password in cleartext. Even where this is true, it does not indicate that the password is more secure."