Researchers say cellular malware purveyors have been abusing a bug within the Google Android platform that lets them sneak malicious code into cellular apps and evade safety scanning instruments. Google says it has up to date its app malware detection mechanisms in response to the brand new analysis.
At difficulty is a cellular malware obfuscation technique recognized by researchers at ThreatFabric, a safety agency primarily based in Amsterdam. Aleksandr Eremin, a senior malware analyst on the firm, advised KrebsOnSecurity they just lately encountered a variety of cellular banking trojans abusing a bug current in all Android OS variations that includes corrupting elements of an app in order that its new evil bits will likely be ignored as invalid by well-liked cellular safety scanning instruments, whereas the app as an entire will get accepted as legitimate by Android OS and efficiently put in.
“There’s malware that’s patching the .apk file [the app installation file], in order that the platform remains to be treating it as legitimate and runs all of the malicious actions it’s designed to do, whereas on the similar time numerous instruments designed to unpack and decompile these apps fail to course of the code,” Eremin defined.
Eremin mentioned ThreatFabric has seen this malware obfuscation technique used a couple of occasions up to now, however in April 2023 it began discovering many extra variants of identified cellular malware households leveraging it for stealth. The corporate has since attributed this improve to a semi-automated malware-as-a-service providing within the cybercrime underground that can obfuscate or “crypt” malicious cellular apps for a charge.
Eremin mentioned Google flagged their preliminary Could 9, 2023 report as “excessive” severity. Extra just lately, Google awarded them a $5,000 bug bounty, despite the fact that it didn’t technically classify their discovering as a safety vulnerability.
“This was a novel state of affairs wherein the reported difficulty was not categorized as a vulnerability and didn’t influence the Android Open Supply Venture (AOSP), however did lead to an replace to our malware detection mechanisms for apps that may attempt to abuse this difficulty,” Google mentioned in a written assertion.
Google additionally acknowledged that a few of the instruments it makes out there to builders — together with APK Analyzer — presently fail to parse such malicious purposes and deal with them as invalid, whereas nonetheless permitting them to be put in on person units.
“We’re investigating potential fixes for developer instruments and plan to replace our documentation accordingly,” Google’s assertion continued.
In keeping with ThreatFabric, there are a couple of telltale indicators that app analyzers can search for that will point out a malicious app is abusing the weak point to masquerade as benign. For starters, they discovered that apps modified on this method have Android Manifest recordsdata that comprise newer timestamps than the remainder of the recordsdata within the software program package deal.
Extra critically, the Manifest file itself will likely be modified in order that the variety of “strings” — plain textual content within the code, akin to feedback — specified as current within the app does match the precise variety of strings within the software program.
One of many cellular malware households identified to be abusing this obfuscation technique has been dubbed Anatsa, which is a classy Android-based banking trojan that usually is disguised as a innocent utility for managing recordsdata. Final month, ThreatFabric detailed how the crooks behind Anatsa will buy older, deserted file managing apps, or create their very own and let the apps construct up a substantial person base earlier than updating them with malicious elements.
ThreatFabric says Anatsa poses as PDF viewers and different file managing purposes as a result of a lot of these apps have already got superior permissions to take away or modify different recordsdata on the host system. The corporate estimates the individuals behind Anatsa have delivered greater than 30,000 installations of their banking trojan by way of ongoing Google Play Retailer malware campaigns.
Google has come below fireplace in current months for failing to extra proactively police its Play Retailer for malicious apps, or for once-legitimate purposes that later go rogue. This Could 2023 story from Ars Technica a couple of previously benign display recording app that turned malicious after garnering 50,000 customers notes that Google doesn’t remark when malware is found on its platform, past thanking the surface researchers who discovered it and saying the corporate removes malware as quickly because it learns of it.
“The corporate has by no means defined what causes its personal researchers and automatic scanning course of to overlook malicious apps found by outsiders,” Ars’ Dan Goodin wrote. “Google has additionally been reluctant to actively notify Play customers as soon as it learns they had been contaminated by apps promoted and made out there by its personal service.”
The Ars story mentions one doubtlessly constructive change by Google of late: A safety measure out there in Android variations 11 and better that implements “app hibernation,” which places apps which have been dormant right into a hibernation state that removes their beforehand granted runtime permissions.