October 1, 2023

Researchers say cell malware purveyors have been abusing a bug within the Google Android platform that lets them sneak malicious code into cell 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 subject is a cell malware obfuscation methodology recognized by researchers at ThreatFabric, a safety agency primarily based in Amsterdam. Aleksandr Eremin, a senior malware analyst on the firm, informed KrebsOnSecurity they not too long ago encountered quite a few cell banking trojans abusing a bug current in all Android OS variations that entails corrupting parts of an app in order that its new evil bits might be ignored as invalid by widespread cell safety scanning instruments, whereas the app as an entire will get accepted as legitimate by Android OS and efficiently put in.

“There may be 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 quite a lot of instruments designed to unpack and decompile these apps fail to course of the code,” Eremin defined.

Eremin stated ThreatFabric has seen this malware obfuscation methodology used a couple of instances previously, however in April 2023 it began discovering many extra variants of recognized cell malware households leveraging it for stealth. The corporate has since attributed this enhance to a semi-automated malware-as-a-service providing within the cybercrime underground that may obfuscate or “crypt” malicious cell apps for a charge.

Eremin stated Google flagged their preliminary Could 9, 2023 report as “excessive” severity. Extra not too long ago, 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 singular scenario during which the reported subject was not categorised 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 which may attempt to abuse this subject,” Google stated in a written assertion.

Google additionally acknowledged that a few of the instruments it makes obtainable to builders — together with APK Analyzer — at present fail to parse such malicious functions and deal with them as invalid, whereas nonetheless permitting them to be put in on consumer gadgets.

“We’re investigating doable fixes for developer instruments and plan to replace our documentation accordingly,” Google’s assertion continued.

Picture: ThreatFabric.

Based on ThreatFabric, there are a couple of telltale indicators that app analyzers can search for which will point out a malicious app is abusing the weak spot to masquerade as benign. For starters, they discovered that apps modified on this method have Android Manifest files that include newer timestamps than the remainder of the recordsdata within the software program package deal.

Extra critically, the Manifest file itself might be modified in order that the variety of “strings” — plain textual content within the code, reminiscent of feedback — specified as current within the app does match the precise variety of strings within the software program.

One of many cell malware households recognized to be abusing this obfuscation methodology has been dubbed Anatsa, which is a classy Android-based banking trojan that usually is disguised as a innocent software 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 consumer base earlier than updating them with malicious parts.

ThreatFabric says Anatsa poses as PDF viewers and different file managing functions as a result of a majority of these apps have already got superior permissions to take away or modify different recordsdata on the host gadget. The corporate estimates the folks behind Anatsa have delivered greater than 30,000 installations of their banking trojan through ongoing Google Play Retailer malware campaigns.

Google has come underneath fireplace in latest months for failing to extra proactively police its Play Retailer for malicious apps, or for once-legitimate functions that later go rogue. This May 2023 story from Ars Technica a few 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 obtainable by its personal service.”

The Ars story mentions one probably optimistic change by Google of late: A safety measure obtainable in Android variations 11 and better that implements “app hibernation,” which places apps which were dormant right into a hibernation state that removes their beforehand granted runtime permissions.