Pending intents

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Overview

A PendingIntent is a reference to a token maintained by the system. Application A can pass a PendingIntent to application B in order to allow application B to execute predefined actions on behalf of application A; regardless of whether application A is still alive.

Risk: Mutable Pending Intents

A PendingIntent can be mutable, which means that the inner intent that specifies the action can be updated by application B following the logic described in the fillIn() documentation. In other words, the unfilled fields of a PendingIntent can be modified by a malicious app and allow access to otherwise non-exported components of the vulnerable application.

Impact

The impact of this vulnerability varies depending on the implementation of the targeted unexported functionality of the app.

Mitigations

General

Make sure action, component, and package are set to avoid the worst vulnerabilities:

Kotlin

val intent = Intent(intentAction)

// Or other component setting APIS e.g. setComponent, setClass
intent.setClassName(packageName, className)

PendingIntent pendingIntent =
    PendingIntent.getActivity(
        context,
        /* requestCode = */ 0,
        intent, /* flags = */ PendingIntent.FLAG_IMMUTABLE
    )

Java

Intent intent = new Intent(intentAction);

// Or other component setting APIs e.g. setComponent, setClass
intent.setClassName(packageName, className);

PendingIntent pendingIntent = PendingIntent.getActivity(
        getContext(),
        /* requestCode = */ 0,
        intent, /* flags = */ PendingIntent.FLAG_IMMUTABLE);

Flag IMMUTABLE

If your app targets Android 6 (API level 23) or higher, specify mutability. For example, you can do this by using FLAG_IMMUTABLE to prevent unfilled fields from being filled in by a malicious application:

Kotlin

val pendingIntent =
    PendingIntent.getActivity(
        context,
        /* requestCode = */ 0,
        Intent(intentAction),
        PendingIntent.FLAG_IMMUTABLE)

Java

PendingIntent pendingIntent = PendingIntent.getActivity(
        getContext(),
        /* requestCode = */ 0,
        new Intent(intentAction),
        PendingIntent.FLAG_IMMUTABLE);

On Android 11 (API level 30) and higher, you have to specify which fields to make mutable, which mitigates accidental vulnerabilities of this type.

Resources


Risk: Replaying Pending Intents

A PendingIntent can be replayed unless the FLAG_ONE_SHOT flag is set. It is important to use FLAG_ONE_SHOT to avoid replay attacks (performing actions that should not be repeatable).

Impact

The impact of this vulnerability varies depending on the implementation of the receiving end of the intent. A malicious app exploiting a PendingIntent that was created without setting the FLAG_ONE_SHOT flag could capture and re-use the intent to repeat actions that should only be able to be done once.

Mitigations

Pending Intents not intended to be fired multiple times should use the FLAG_ONE_SHOT flag to avoid replay attacks.

Kotlin

val pendingIntent =
      PendingIntent.getActivity(
          context,
          /* requestCode = */ 0,
          Intent(intentAction),
          PendingIntent.FLAG_IMMUTABLE or PendingIntent.FLAG_ONE_SHOT)

Java

PendingIntent pendingIntent =
      PendingIntent.getActivity(
          getContext(),
          /* requestCode = */ 0,
          new Intent(intentAction),
          PendingIntent.FLAG_IMMUTABLE | PendingIntent.FLAG_ONE_SHOT);

Resources


Resources