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Archive for the ‘Security’ Category

Quick Fixes for a Safer Online Banking Experience

Monday, September 15th, 2014

Recently, a researcher colleague at K7 Threat Control Lab faced a minor glitch in accessing his online banking account at one of India’s leading banks. This led him to explore the bank’s online banking website, and he was surprised to find that not only was the main logging information portal vulnerable to simple exploitation but the authentication process also seemed weak in certain areas.

Driven by curiosity, we experimented with the entry level data validation mechanism at the online banking websites of major banks in India to discover if their online banking services are as sound as they claim them to be. Our very basic, high-level “field trials” made us realize that both the bank’s online security methods and user practices could potentially compromise the security of the bank’s online services.

We observed a few simple logic flaws in the online security process which could present loopholes for the bad guys to exploit, thus potentially bruising the bank’s online defences. Note: These logic flaws do not involve the exploit of web application vulnerabilities such as XSS, SQL, RCE, etc.

Field Value Enumeration

A customer trying to access his account is required to submit a login form to confirm his authenticity. We noticed that most of the banking sites validated each entry of the login credentials separately. This kind of independent validation could lead to ‘Field Value Enumeration’ and could subsequently lead to attackers deliberately locking out user accounts. For example, if the account policy of a bank holds that users will be locked out after five failed login attempts, an attacker could lockout an account by deliberately sending an invalid password on five attempts for a valid username. On a large scale, mass account lockouts could amount  to a ‘Denial of Service’ attack, which, if successful, would harm the reputation of the targeted banking institution.

Weak Usernames

Nearly 50% of the internet banking portals have a feeble username-strength validation process. Usernames should be unique, and ideally not be enumerable or guessable, and should never be a “Bank Client ID”, “Bank Customer ID”, “Email ID”. By setting username standards by including alphanumeric and special characters, the strength of usernames can be improved, thus making it that much more challenging for the miscreants to abuse.

Easy-to-Remember Passwords

The password is usually the critical barrier which blocks malicious intruders at entry. However, customers generally opt for passwords which are simple and easy to remember, which makes the hacker’s job a tad easier. For a sturdy password, it should be made mandatory for users to employ criteria such as uppercase, lowercase, numbers and symbols, and minimum length in their passwords as a precaution against brute-force and dictionary attacks.

Additional validation from server side

User validations are mostly coded on client side scripting languages, and are therefore easily circumvented. Additional duplicate user validation processes should ideally be implemented at the server end as well to enhance the overall user validation process.

No CAPTCHA

Almost 60% of the online banking websites lack CAPTCHA implementations. Incorporating a CAPTCHA as an additional step in the user authentication process can significantly mitigate against bots and brute-force attacks.

Mail Notification for “Authentication”

Almost all online banking services have a mail delivery process for each user transaction that occurs. However, we noticed that 60% of net banking services are not sending mail notifications on unsuccessful authentication. Such a notification can be useful for users to be apprised of any unauthorized login attempt. There is unlikely to be a bombarding of the user’s inbox with notifications given that the probability of a legitimate user repeatedly typing in the wrong username and/or password is pretty low.

In conclusion a more secure online banking service can exist by employing enhanced protection strategies and by encouraging customers to adopt good security practices for usernames and passwords, thereby protecting their medium of access to these online banking websites.

Image courtesy of halomedia.co.za.

Priyal Viroja & Archana Sangili, K7 Team

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Gmail Passwords Leaked

Friday, September 12th, 2014

A list of millions of Gmail user names and passwords were recently posted in a Russian bit-coin site. While details on how exactly the passwords got leaked remain murky, the popular email service provider has confirmed that none of their servers were breached to ex-filtrate the data. Users of these compromised accounts are now being re-directed to Google’s password reset page to regain access.

To be on the safe side, users should consider implementing two factor authentication for Gmail accounts.

If history has taught us anything, sensational news like this is likely candidate for social engineering based abuse. Web sites purporting to allow people to check if their Google accounts have been compromised are already cropping up and it could be only a matter of time before we start seeing phishing campaigns on this subject. Users are advised to be vigilant and avoid such emails at all costs.

Lokesh Kumar
K7 Threat Control Lab

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Drive by and you’ll be taken for a ride

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Recently we came across a commercial website catering to cycling enthusiasts that appears to be compromised.

The site’s java-scripts are all injected with a malicious iframe strategically placed between blocks of seemingly innocent HTML content. This is an age old technique meant to trick web masters who tend to look for malicious code either at the beginning or at the end of an HTML file.

On visiting the site, your browser loads all the java-scripts for the page which then redirects you to a malicious URL displayed in the screen shot above. This redirected site has just a few lines of HTML  like below:

You’ll immediately be redirected to another URL that looks to be generated using a Domain Generation Algorithm (DGA). This third level of redirection will then lead you to the actual exploit code, which on successful exploitation will drop a malicious payload named “wiupdat.exe” thus completing the cycle of the classic drive-by download attack.

On further analysis of the executable, we realized that the malware pretends to be from K7 Computing by imitating our version strings like below:

This is done to gain the user’s trust who may choose to ignore the executable thinking that it belongs to a reputed security vendor. K7 users will be protected from this malicious file, the compromised website, and the intermediary URLs.

Imitations are flattering!!!

Melhin Ahammad
K7 Threat Control Lab

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BackOff, from the Point of Sale – But not too much

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

BackOff – a lot has been discussed by the Anti-Virus security community and the non-AV community alike, about this malware and other families of PoS RAM scrapers. In conjunction with the mentioned article, we thought it would be nice to shed some light on this topic, however we’ll try and take a more ‘desi’ angle.

First, some insight on how this brand of malware works. Though generally targeted at PoS (Point of Sale) systems, the malware isn’t restricted only to those systems. It just requires a Windows-based operating system. Once executed it would copy itself into one of those usual Windows directories and with the usual registry entry to ensure auto-initiation between reboots. The dropped copy (mostly faking a legitimate 3rd party Windows software’s name) then goes on to scan the system processes for specific strings that would resemble your common credit and debit card details. It even goes a step further to ‘whitelist’ known processes (like csrss.exe, winlogon.exe, etc.,) and skips scanning those processes. So when an unsuspecting billing clerk at your retailer swipes your card at an infected PoS system your card details would be read by the system and processed in its memory. This data would now be easily accessible for this malware, since it just keeps scraping the memory for exactly such details. Apart from this, the malware also has functionality to log your keystrokes, i.e. whatever you type. While actively collecting all this information it also keeps posting it onto a remote C&C (Command and Control) server. Despite its ‘swiss army knife’-esque functionality this malware has little persistence; it has an injected process and an encrypted copy to achieve this. In case the malware process has been killed or has crashed, the injected process would then decrypt the encrypted copy and re-execute it. But these are techniques that are easily overcome by most Anti-Virus products today.

Getting back to the article, it says this Trojan is “spreading”, whilst in reality Trojans do not really spread themselves; only worms and viruses do. This malware family is almost a targeted type, hence it needs to be strategically ‘placed’ in a proper location to work; in short the distribution vector is of low activity, well, at least in India. A PoS system in a retailer chain would be sitting in one of the most secure network rings of the store, but as always an attacker is going to use various infiltration techniques to obtain access. This might range from a simple SQL injection to a well-crafted, target-specific, exploit-containing spam email to a vulnerable employee. The attackers in this case are targeting ‘remote desktop applications’ enabled systems and try to brute force them to obtain access. The article however describes this to be a functionality of the malware, which is not so. It cannot scan for remote desktop systems and propagate through them.

People in India might recall that the RBI made it mandatory to enter your card’s PIN for using debit cards at the PoS. Though the RBI has averted a huge risk by thwarting a fraudster who doesn’t know a stolen/lost debit card’s PIN from using it, there might now be a new risk of handing the PIN to schemers who control this PoS malware network. However the RBI has also enforced upon banks a policy to limit the scope of MagStripe cards to domestic usage only, and in case a card should have international transaction capability it must be EMV (EuroPay, MasterCard and Visa) Chip and PIN enabled, i.e. very difficult to duplicate.

As always it is advisable for individuals to keep track of their banking transactions, via SMS or email to identify any fraudulent transactions initiated from your cards ASAP.

As for K7 users, though, in case this malware does manage to find its way onto your system it would be stopped dead as we detect all its variants.

Images courtesy of:
outright.com
officeclipart.com

Kaarthik RM
K7TCL

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https://icann-deal.with.it (Part 2)

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

This is the second part of a three-part blog based on my paper for AVAR 2012 that discusses the security challenges involved in adopting two relatively new technologies, namely, Internet Protocol Version 6 and Internationalized Domain Names.

Continuing from the first part of my paper…

Internet Metamorphosis

The Internet is witnessing a critical phase in the transition from an old technology to a new one, and users must understand the security implications involved. These implications could manifest themselves either during the implementation stage or after.

Tunnel Vision. IP tunnelling implementation involves encapsulating the IPv6 packets into IPv4, which is similar to creating a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Teredo, for example, is a tunnelling protocol that is installed by default on Windows Vista and Windows 7 operating systems, and provides IPv6 connectivity to a native IPv4 device [7].

Fig.4: Example of tunnelled IPv6 traffic[8]

Since the IPv6 contents are disguised inside the IPv4 packets, most security devices struggle to analyse and detect them. This in turn opens the door for attacks when these tunnels are used to transport malware.

There have been known instances of malware which enable IPv6 on a compromised host to communicate with its creator using these IP tunnels. The fact that IPv6 is enabled by default on most new operating systems makes it easier for malware to spread without being noticed. The infamous Zeus, for example, is known to support IPv6 from early 2010 onwards. This malware not only boasts of having the capability to sniff IPv6 traffic, but also supports an IPv6 Peer-to-Peer network [9].

Stack ’em Up. Dual Stack Implementation involves running both IPv4 and IPv6 in parallel, with one protocol taking preference over the other. Communication is done using the preferred protocol first, failing which it is retried using the secondary protocol.

Fig.5: Example of dual stack traffic[8]

Considering that communications happen natively either in IPv4 or in IPv6, and that both protocols co-exist in the network, until sufficient machines become IPv6 compliant, at which point IPv4 can be pensioned off, this is the preferred method of transition.

To NAT or Not. Network Address Translation (NAT) is a technique that allows multiple devices within an internal network to get online by sharing a single public IP address. This public IP address would be provided to a router at the gateway level, which in turn directs traffic to machines inside the network that use non-routable IP addresses.

On a small scale, NAT is used within a Small Office Home Office (SOHO) environment, and on a large scale, often referred to as Carrier Grade NAT (CGN), it is used by ISPs who have a limited number of IPv4 addresses.

Fig.6: Simple implementation of NAT within a SOHO environment

Apart from cutting down on the number of routable IPv4 addresses used, this technology also provided a certain degree of privacy and security to the users in the internal network. Automated port scans and information gathering attempts are deterred at the gateway, and would only succeed from inside the private network.

The gargantuan number of addresses available in IPv6 means that ISPs could technically do away with NAT, and assign a static IP address to each of its users, and yet never run out of addresses in the foreseeable future.

While this would promote end to end connectivity, which was how the Internet was originally envisaged, it could also open up the flood gates of machines which were never previously directly connected to the Internet, for now they would be vulnerable to prying eyes and groping hands.

The silver lining, however, is that since an IPv6 address can now be mapped to each user, tracking down malicious traffic & the victims of a malware incident also becomes easier. It could be a boon or a bane, depending on how one perceives it.

The Whois Who of Malware URLs , Phishing & Spam

Over the years as communication media within the Internet expanded from e-mails to other forms such as instant messaging, forums, blogging, social networking, etc., spammers followed suit with campaigns targeting these channels. These campaigns include the relatively innocuous comment spam posted in blogs/forums, Pump ’n Dump scams, attempts to sell Viagra and the like, phishers vying for sensitive user information, and malware related spam which go for the jugular.

The current volume of spam received via various communication channels is kept to a minimum thanks to a combination of techniques which involves, but is not limited to, content based and list based filtering. Given the plethora of malware URLs and spam messages disseminated everyday, most of this filtering is done using automated systems.

Fig.7 below shows a steady rise in the number of malware/phishing URLs for the first half of the year 2012

Fig.7: Number of malicious URLs crawled by K7 from January 2012 to June 2012 [10]

Content Based Filtering. This works on analyzing different characteristics of a message or a URL. For example, messages with keywords such as Viagra, Rolex, etc, somewhere in the MIME envelope could automatically be declared as spam. Similarly, a URL with words like PayPal or Facebook in the sub-domain component, combined with a recently registered domain name having a minimum validity can be deemed suspicious. However, when these keywords are represented in another language, automated content based filtering could become more challenging since we would now have to recognise the representation of a keyword in as many different character sets or Puny Code equivalents, as possible.

List Based Filtering. This aims to assign a reputation to the source of the e-mail message or the URL. For example, when a stream of messages detected as spam originates from a single IP address, that address may then be assigned a bad reputation, and would go into a blacklist. Similarly, a malicious domain or IP could go into this list.

Subsequent messages from a blacklisted IP address would automatically be labeled as spam & dropped when e-mail servers query the blacklist in real time. Likewise, URLs containing blacklisted domains or IP addresses would also be blocked as malicious.

Fig.8: One blacklisted IP address used to both send spam and host malware [10]

Once a domain/IP address gets blacklisted, the attacker shifts to a new address from which to send the spam or on which to host malware until that gets blacklisted too. They do this by either releasing and renewing their IP from their service provider, if the machine used to send the spam or host the malware is physically owned and controlled by them, or by selecting a new bot, a machine from their botnet consisting of many infected machines, from which to send the spam vicariously or to host malware on the attacker’s behalf.

On an IPv4 network the attacker has a theoretical maximum of only 4 billion addresses to cycle through. This number increases manifold within an IPv6 network. The increase in the number of domain names, due to the introduction of IDNs, is also likely to add to the blacklist woes, especially when these domains originate from an IPv6 network.

Fig.9 below shows the steady rise in the number of IDNs in the first half of the year 2012. Though currently small, the numbers are expected to increase significantly over time.

Fig.9: Number of malicious IDNs crawled by K7 from January 2012 to June 2012 [10]

Another problem with respect to blacklists is the amount of disk space occupied by these lists and the time taken to look them up. Even in the case of the relatively impoverished IPv4, assuming that all 4 billion addresses get blacklisted, a flat CSV file containing all these addresses occupies a minimum of approximately 60 Gigabytes of disk space on a Unix platform [11]. Consider further the amount of time taken in creating, maintaining, and querying such a big database in real time. Such a system would be nigh on unworkable for IPv6.

To be continued…

References:
[7] Information on http://www.us-cert.gov/reading_room/IPv6Malware-Tunneling.pdf
[8] Information on http://www.cybertelecom.org/dns/ipv6_transition.htm
[9] https://blog.damballa.com/archives/438
[10] Internal data
[11] http://www.circleid.com/posts/digging_through_the_problem_of_ipv6_and_email_part_1

Lokesh Kumar
K7 Threat Control Lab

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“Now You See Me, Now You … Errr … See Me”

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Much has already been written about Win32/Poweliks, the touted fileless persistent malware.

The malware uses an embedded NUL within the key under the following registry path:

HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run

This non-standard use of NUL as part of the key name is not new. A similar trick was likely used by variants of more advanced malware such as ZeroAccess, when creating helper files on disk. Regedit, a usermode process, is unable to read this keyname, but it doesn’t mean the entry is invisible. In fact K7′s rootkit scanner reveals the key with ease:

The other important point is that the infection chain involves a malicious Microsoft Office document containing a dropper Windows executable file, both of which must exist on disk as normal files, albeit ephemerally, and executed before the above-mentioned registry entry can be created. This provides a fleeting opportunity to detect these vital components easily, and detect them we do as

Trojan ( 0001140e1 )

and

Trojan ( 0049882d1 )

respectively.

The techniques used by the malware to execute a JS-decoded DLL via a registry entry are indeed interesting, but there are still quite a few opportunities to flag the infection at various stages of the infection chain, including at the entry spam email stage itself. It remains to be seen if the malware evolves to employ more sophisticated techniques in future.

Samir Mody
Senior Manager, K7TCL

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Tax Deducted @ Spam?

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

‘tis the season for filing Income Tax Returns in India! Fa la la la la la la la!  To make the task easier, nowadays there are agencies that help people file their IT returns online. On 1st August 2014 one of the researchers in our lab received an email in his spam folder from an agency with the subject stating, Today is the last day for filing your Income Tax return, i.e. well after the deadline of 31st of July, IST, for filing returns.

The actual message received is shown in the image below:

What caught our attention is that, on hovering over the button “File your Income-tax return Today!” the website in the hyper link was different from the website address the email was claiming to come from. The resulting website when you click on this button asks for sensitive information like PAN card and bank account details.

Further investigation helped to identify the websites as clean. However, it has been constantly advised by the Government of India not to carry out these kinds of sensitive activities through any unauthorized third-party websites, to avoid any unhappy situations, as explained in the following popup image from incometaxindiaefiling.gov.in, the bona fide portal through which ITRs ought to be filed:

The websites involved in such ITR-filing activities seem to be  unaware of the future consequences of their ill-thought-out email campaigns to promote their businesses.

It’s a known issue that hackers are always in search of new ways to harvest private/critical information from users for their own gain. The strategies used here by the third-party agency to redirect to its own tax filing page might also be used by hackers in phishing activities to exploit GOOD RETURNS!

Let’s now look at other facets of the above email which increase suspicion levels:

  1. The email is not addressed to the receiver but rather to a generic “Hello [NAME]”
  2. Questions are to be emailed to an email domain name which appears, at first glance, to originate from outside India

No wonder this email, which by the way was received TWICE within a short span of time, ended up automatically in the spam folder.

Vivek Das
Automation Developer, K7Lab

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URL “Falls” Positive

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Occasionally, we at K7 Threat Control Lab receive reports from our clients that the website they visited is being blocked by our product, claiming it as a URL false detection. In a lot of such cases, our investigations have proved that the reported URL turns out to be injected with malicious scripts.

Recently, we came across one such incident from a client regarding an Indian government site being blocked.

When analyzed, many of the pages on that website were found to be injected with a JavaScript pointing to a randomly named PHP file “QwYygBKV.php” as shown in the image below.

It is likely that the web server has been compromised by remote hackers via exploitation of some vulnerability. Here is the code which writes the script tag in HTML files:

Inspite of the random name, the above said PHP file was found in many other domains as well. Even though the web page to which the URL redirects is not alive and gives “404” error, the reported website is still detected because its pages hold the link to malicious content. Interestingly, the malicious PHP was hosted on the reported domain itself, usually the link is a redirection to another malicious website.

In this case, the administrator possibly would have removed the aforementioned PHP file. Unfortunately the infection is not cleaned completely -the web pages still carry the link to the currently unavailable malicious content.

We have informed the concerned authority of the reported website about the scenario and the recommended course of action.

One would hope that such incidents would remind administrators that when weeding websites of infections, identifying the vulnerabilities that were exploited and patching them in the first place and ensuring the integrity of the website content, are as important as removing the malware component itself.

As for K7 users, this website shall remain blocked since the loophole that the attacker exploited to host this file on the site might still be at large.

V.Dhanalakshmi
Malware Analyst, K7TCL

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https://icann-deal.with.it (Part 1)

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

This is the first part of a three-part blog based on my paper for AVAR 2012 that discusses the security challenges involved in adopting two relatively new technologies, namely, Internet Protocol Version 6 and Internationalized Domain Names.

The Internet landscape is about to witness profound changes with the mass adoption of Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) and Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) in the near future. While these developments have the potential to be immensely beneficial, they also present certain challenges to the security industry which need to be addressed. These changes not only increase the attack surface for malware authors and spammers, but also render traditional methods of URL and spam blocking obsolete.

The exhaustion of the 32 bit IPv4 addresses assigned by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) has led to the roll-out of its 128 bit successor, IPv6. This provides a significant increase in the address pool available to assign unique IP addresses, not only to computers, but also to other Internet-connected devices. Spammers and malware authors would now have a larger address space to infect and cycle through, vitiating existing methods of detecting spam/malware URLs.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has expanded domain names to include non-ASCII based IDNs in a user’s native language script. While these transitions have the potential to localise the global Internet, they also provide cyber criminals (spammers/phishers/malware distributors) enhanced opportunities for exploitation, especially via social engineering.

These cyber criminals will now have the ability to redirect a user to a URL with a character set unfamiliar to him/her. Given the exponential increase in the number of URLs shared among users in our socially inter-networked world, validation of these URLs by the user prima facie now becomes much more complicated, leading to a higher compromise success rate for cyber criminals.

This paper describes the imminent major changes to the Internet networking infrastructure. It attempts to explore the security challenges involved in these milestone developments and presents potential solutions to address them.

The IPv4 Clock is Ticking

The expansion of the Internet from an esoteric academic project to a publicly accessible resource, coupled with the surge of Internet enabled devices over the last decade have contributed to the shrinking pool of available IPv4 addresses.

Fig.1 depicts the number of expected Internet enabled devices and Internet users by 2016, and how they measure up with the number of IPv4 addresses available.

Fig.1: Number of connected devices & Internet users by 2016 [1]

Conservation efforts like Network Address Translation (NAT), Classless Inter Domain Routing (CIDR), reclaiming unused addresses etc., only prolonged what was unavoidable – the depletion, and eventual exhaustion, of IPv4 addresses.

Given that ICANN, which is responsible for distributing IP addresses, gave away the last block of IPv4 addresses to the five Regional Internet Registries (RIR) in early 2011 [2], the need for change is rather pressing.

IPv6 to the Rescue

This IPv4 address crunch has been anticipated for many years, and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has been working on refining IPv6, the successor to IPv4, since the early 1990s [3]. This version of the Internet Protocol can support up to 300 undecillion addresses compared to the relatively miniscule 4 billion, a number smaller than the current world population, offered by its predecessor. Apart from this massive increase in the address space, the IETF also embedded other features to IPv6 such as support for IPSec, auto-configuration of devices, etc. [4]

These benefits, along with the availability of IPv6 from ISPs, increased end-user device support & IPv6 content, will ensure the adoption of IPv6 in the years to come, eventually making it the dominant Internet Protocol.

Fig.2 shows that, as expected, the percentage of users accessing Google over a native IPv6 connection has seen a steep rise over recent times.

Fig.2: Percentage of IPv6 users accessing Google [5]

What’s in a Domain Name

The demand for Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) has always existed in view of the fact that 60% of the countries around the world have an official language other than English [6]. ICANN, which has domain names within its remit, has recently started allowing IDNs to satisfy this unmet demand.

The introduction of IDNs allows non-ASCII character sets like Arabic, Cyrillic, Tamil, Hindi, Chinese, etc, to be included in a domain name, potentially paving the way for a truly globalised Internet.

These IDNs are converted into ASCII using Puny Code, an encoding syntax invisible to the user, which allows for standard domain name resolutions.

Fig.3 shows a domain name in English, its nonexistent IDN equivalent in the Tamil script, and the Puny Code representation of the IDN which is used for a domain name resolution.

Fig3: Domain Name, IDN, Puny Code representation

The current demand for IDNs, combined with registrars throwing them away at a price cheaper than the regular domains, could see a surge in the number of non-English sites registering domain names in their local language.

To be continued…

References:
[1] http://www.google.com/intl/en/ipv6/images/graph.png
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPv6#Exhaustion_of_IPv4_addresses
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPv6#Working-group_proposal
[4] Information on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPv6
[5] http://www.google.com/intl/en/ipv6/statistics.html
[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_where_English_is_an_official_language

Images courtesy of icann.org & worldipv6launch.org

Lokesh Kumar
Manager, K7 Threat Control Lab

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Paranoid Android? (Part 2)

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

This is the second part of a two-part blog based on my paper for AVAR 2011 that discusses the Android Threat Landscape and the ways of mitigating the risk.

Continuing from the first part of my paper…

Threat Store

Similar to the change in the malware trend for PCs, Android also has a change in the trend for its threats. During the early stages, most of the Android threats were found to be of less severity. Compromised devices were used to send out SMSs or make calls to premium rate numbers without the user’s knowledge, e.g. Trojan-SMS.AndroidOS.FakePlayer.a [Kaspersky].

Towards the end of the year 2010, Android malware took a different shape with botnet behaviour that works with a Command & Control method, awaiting remote commands from the malware author. As per the commands received, most malicious applications either download various other applications or send out confidential data, unique device identifiers, and the SIM card number to the malware author. Trojan.AndroidOS.Genimi is one such malware, which takes pride in behaving like a bot.

Some malware avail of certain vulnerabilities to gain root access to the device and perform their desired actions. The infamous TrojanSpy:AndroidOS/DroidDream.A (aka Backdoor.AndroidOS.Rooter.a [Kaspersky]), is of the kind that acquires root access to the victim’s device. Droiddream is often found to be bundled with legitimate applications, like games, and gets installed with the original application. The first time round it requires user intervention to start itself. Once the infected application is started, to gain root access, it uses the PoC exploit called Exploid. If this action fails, it tries another PoC exploit, RageAgainsttheCage.  Once root access has been secured, Droiddream checks if the DownloadsManager package is installed on the device, and if not installed, it installs the application that it carries within itself in the system/apps directory. This time the user will not be requested for the permissions needed to install the application. The malicious DownloadsManager application installs silently in the background and starts the specified service. This application can now act as per the commands from the C&C server.

The recent Android malware trend has advanced further. Android threats can now even make new outgoing calls, record the conversation on calls without the user’s knowledge, monitor and log the activities of the user in the device, and pass on all of this information to the malware controller. Trojan.AndroidOS.NickiSpy, mentioned earlier, functions as described.

Let us have a quick look at the behavior of some of the known Android malware, which were found since August 2010. The threats are listed in chronological order:

Threat Name Behavior
Trojan-SMS.AndroidOS.FakePlayer.a, Trojan-SMS.AndroidOS.FakePlayer.b, Trojan-SMS.AndroidOS.FakePlayer.c Manual install, distributed via SMS,sends out SMS to premium rate numbers, third party market
AndroidOS_Droisnake.A Manual install, sends out GPS information to a server, downloads an application and gains user data, Android Marketplace
Trojan- Spy.AndroidOS.Geinimi.a Both manual and automatic install, botnet, works on C&C method, third party Chinese market
Trojan-Spy.AndroidOS.Adrd.a (Less severe version of Trojan- Spy.AndroidOS.Geinimi.a), manual install only, botnet, works on C&C method, third party Chinese market
Trojan-Spy.AndroidOS.Adrd.c Manual install, works on C&C method, Third party Android Marketplace
Backdoor.AndroidOS.Rooter.a, Well-Known, DroidDream Malware Manual install, first to exploit Exploid and RageAgainsttheCage code, gains root access, Android Marketplace
Backdoor.AndroidOS.SerBG.c Manual install, Android Marketplace, gains root access, bundled with a security tool released as a Droiddream Cure
Android.Zeahache Manual install, gains root access, first found in a Chinese application downloaded from a Chinese application market
Trojan.AndroidOS.Pirater.a Manual install, both Android and third party markets, sends out SMS or makes calls to premium rate numbers, gathers information like phone status, network status, accesses address book, also capable of malfunctions like switching the phone on or off
Backdoor.AndroidOS.Adsms.a Distributed via SMS, targets Chinese users, installs a configuration file that sends out SMS to premium rate numbers, Android Marketplace
Trojan-SMS.AndroidOS.Raden.b Manual install, Android Marketplace, targets Chinese users to send out SMS to premium rate numbers
Trojan-Downloader.AndroidOS.DorDrae.b, well-Known as DroidDreamLight New version of the same DroidDreamLight, manual install, works on C&C method, Android Marketplace
Backdoor.AndroidOS.KungFu.b Both manual and automatic install, gains root access, works on C&C method
Android.Basebridge Manual install, third party market, gains root privileges, sends out SMS to premium rate numbers, capable of malicious functions like making calls, deleting all inbox messages, etc
Trojan.AndroidOS.Plangton.b Both manual and automatic install, Android Marketplace, sends out the device information to a remote server, downloads a file from the remote server that monitors all activities and sends back the information to the remote server, simply works in C&C fashion
Backdoor.AndroidOS.Xsider.b Both manual and automatic install, third party market, targets Chinese users and those who use custom ROMs
Android.Golddream Both manual and automatic install, third party and Android Marketplace, works on C&C method
Trojan-Spy.AndroidOS.Smser.a,    Trojan-SMS.AndroidOS.Hispo.a, Manual install, third party market, sends out all the SMS from the compromised device to a remote location
Android/Sndapps.A Manual install, Android Marketplace, works on C&C , sends out personal information like email addresses and numbers in the contact list to a remote server
Android.NickiSpy Manual install, third party market, first to spy on user conversations, record and send it to a remote server, works on C&C method
Trojan-Spy.AndroidOS.Cosha.a (well-known as Android.LuvTrap) Manual install, Chinese third party market, downloads premium rate numbers from a website and sends out SMS to those numbers by masking the confirmation alerts from users
Android.Premiumtext Manual install, third party market, sends out premium rate SMS
Android.Nickibot Manual install, third party market, newer version of Nickispy, but controlled by SMS messages instead of C&C messages,
Android.Dogowar Manual install, Third party market, sends out SMS to all of the contact numbers

Table 1: Android Malware from August 2010 to September 2011

The list in Table 1 is extensive and does not include the malware seen after the time mentioned. Some of the malware are found to be bundled with Chinese applications when they are spotted for the first time, and most Android malware are believed to originate in Russia or China.

With the advancement in technology, smartphones play a vital role in managing business communications. There is a huge risk that sensitive data stored on smartphones may get stolen. Mobile security reports reveal the immense growth of Android malware since 2010, as exemplified in Table 1. All Android users should be aware of the risks of infection, and the possible ways of safeguarding themselves.

DIY SOS

Most of the time users, when downloading applications either for their PC or mobile device, during the installation process, are impatient when reading through the licence agreement or any alerts that popup.  They tend to simply say ‘OK’ for the installation. Hackers find gaining the user’s own permission as their easiest way of compromising a mobile device. This process is called “social engineering”, a classic exploitation of “PEBCAK”, i.e. “Problem Exists Between Chair And Keyboard” when applied to PCs. In the case of mobile devices, a more appropriate acronym could be …”SUPER”, i.e. Smart User Prevents Error Root.

Social networking plays a major role in the modern world and is a widely used global communication medium.  Hackers take advantage of the users of smartphones that facilitate social networking, often via applications that trick the user into providing the required permissions to access the contacts list or email address book. Once these permissions are granted, it may be possible to send out unwanted SMS or spam mails from the compromised device. Users have the responsibility to pay close attention to the permission levels they grant for the applications they install, deciding whether each application is in need of the requested Capabilities to perform its activities. Of course, this is no easy task given that many users may be technically unable to gauge the specific permissions required per application. More information and education in this respect might be helpful.

Additionally, users need to be aware of the usage of the applications which they download and from where they are downloaded. Users are strongly recommended to download applications from the established and dedicated online Android application market(now play store), rather than downloading from a new or unknown source. This will reduce the risk of becoming a malware victim to an extent, since the well-known markets are scrutinized on a regular basis and infected or malware applications will be cleared off. It also helps that applications from the Android Marketplace(now play store) come with review comments and a reputation level for the applications. This may guide the user in validating applications prior to install.

Users, as always, should have updated security software installed to protect their devices from being hijacked. Security software will block known malware, whilst also monitoring the runtime behavior of applications such that any malpractice identified would be blocked. Security software could also block access to unwanted or blacklisted websites, in addition to blocking suspicious network activity without explicit user consent.

Some of the Android Security software products have Parental Control included in their features list that helps users to either blacklist or whitelist a contact number, which holds good even for SMS services. User would then be able to add contact information to a whitelist database, restricting the numbers to which SMS can be sent.

As Android malware aim at obtaining root access, few security products go a step further and identify if the device is ‘rooted’ and warn the user about the same. This feature also explicitly alerts the user if any application requests root access.

In the event that a phone is lost or stolen, in which case all the information stored in the phone is now exposed to the outside world, some security software provides the users with the ability to remotely clear off the data from the stolen device, and block the device itself, with an online data backup to recover the lost data.

With Freedom Comes Great Responsibility

Google’s target to spread Android in Asia is being achieved with great success, as exemplied by the Android sales graph which shows a persistent upward trend. The cost effective Android phones have already conquered much of the smartphone-user and gadget-lover market. However, the popularity of Android makes it a viable and tempting target for hackers, and therefore the increasing spread of Android-specific malware has to be expected.

Current Android malware functionality ranges from sending SMS (to premium rate numbers) to stealing confidential data, and being controlled via remote Command & Control servers. Hackers use online Android application markets as a pathway onto the victim’s device. It’s a must that users make themselves well aware of the online stores, which must be of good repute, from where they download applications.

The Android OS strives to fulfil the user’s demand for security features within its current security model. The concept of permissions via application ‘Capabilities’, to an extent, holds good to protect the device from abuse. However, the hackers use clever social engineering techniques to entice users into providing the requisite permissions to their malware programs. Users should be wary of attempts to trick them into granting permissions which are inconsistent with the advertised functionality of the application in question.

It goes without saying that each device should have security software installed to detect and block any untoward activity. However, as the proverb goes, “Prevention is better than Cure”. User education and vigilance would go a long way in mitigating the spread of Android malware, and users have a role to play in this respect.

Images courtesy of:

glogster.com
phandroid.com
www.apimarketing.com
popolsku.nl
Preventionistheanswer.org

V.Dhanalakshmi
Malware Analyst, K7TCL

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