Few days ago Juniper Networks has released a report on the status of Android Malware. The results are not encouraging for the Android Addicted since they show a 472% increase in malware samples since July 2011 (see the infographic for details).
This does not surprising: already in May in its annual Malicious Mobile Threats Report, report, Juniper had found a 400% increase in Android malware from 2009 to the summer of 2010. This trend is destined to further grow since the Juniper Global Threat Center found that October and November registered the fastest growth in Android malware discovery in the history of the platform. The number of malware samples identified in September increased by 28%. whilst October showed a 110% increase in malware sample collection over the previous month and a noticeable 171% increase from July 2011.
As far as the nature of malware is concerned, Juniper data show that the malware is getting more and more sophisticated, with the majority of malicious applications targeting communications, location, or other personal information. Of the known Android malware samples, 55%, acts as spyware, 44%, are SMS Trojans, which send SMS messages to premium rate numbers without the user’s consent.
The reason for this malware proliferation? A weak policy control on the Android market which makes easier for malicious developers to publish malware applications in disguise. From this point of view, at least according to Juniper, the model of Cupertino is much more efficient and secure.
Easily predictable Google’s answer came from the mouth of Chris DiBona, open source and public sector engineering manager at Google. According to DiBona, Open Source, which is widely present in all the major mobile phone operating systems, is software, and software can be insecure. But Open Source becomes stronger if it pays attention to security, otherwise it is destined to disappear. In support of this statement he quotes the cases of Sendmail and Apache, whose modules which were not considered enough secure disappeared or came back stronger (and more secure) than ever.
But DiBona’s does not stop here (probably he had read this AV-test report which demonstrates that free Android Antimalware applications are useless): “Yes, virus companies are playing on your fears to try to sell you bs protection software for Android, RIM and IOS. They are charlatans and scammers. IF you work for a company selling virus protection for android, rim or IOS you should be ashamed of yourself.”
From this point of view Google hopes that Ice Cream Sandwich will lead Android Security at the next level even if some features are raising security concerns among Infosec professionals.
As you will probably know my Birthday post for Android Malware has deserved a mention from Engadget and Wired. Easily predictable but not for me, the Engadget link has been flooded by comments posted by Android supporters and adversaries, with possible trolls’ infiltrations, up to the point that the editorial staff has decided to disable comments from the article. The effect has been so surprising that someone has also insinuated, among other things, that I have been paid to talk s**t on the Android.
Now let me get some rest from this August Italian Sun and let me try to explain why I decided to celebrate this strange malware birthday for the Android.
First of all I want to make a thing clear: I currently do own an Android Device, and convinced, where possible, all my relatives and friends to jump on the Android. Moreover I do consider the Google platform an inseparable companion for my professional and personal life.
So what’s wrong? If you scroll the malware list you may easily notice that the malware always require an explicit consent from the user, so at first glance the real risk is the extreme trust that users put in their mobile devices which are not considered “simple” phones (even if smart), but real extensions of their personal and professional life.
You might say that this happens also for traditional devices (such as laptops), but in case of mobile devices there is a huge social and cultural difference: users are not aware to bring on their pocket dual (very soon four) cores mini-PCs and are not used to apply the same attention deserved for their old world traditional devices. Their small display size also make these devices particularly vulnerable to phishing (consider for instance the malware Android.GGTracker).
If we focus on technology instead of culture (not limiting the landscape to mobile) it easy to verify that the activity of developing malware (which nowadays is essentially a cybercrime activity) is a trade off between different factors affecting the potential target which include, at least its level of diffusion and its value for the attacker (in a mobile scenario the value corresponds to the value of the information stored on the device). The intrinsic security model of the target is, at least in my opinion, a secondary factor since the effort to overtake it, is simply commensurate with the value of the potential plunder.
What does this mean in simple words? It means that Android devices are growing exponentially in terms of market shares and are increasingly being used also for business. As a consequence there is a greater audience for the attackers, a greater value for the information stored (belonging to the owner’s personal and professional sphere) and consequently the sum of these factors is inevitably attracting Cybercrooks towards this platform.
Have a look to the chart drawing Google OS Market share in the U.S. (ComScore Data) compared with the number of malware samples in this last year (Data pertaining Market Share for June and July are currently not available):
So far the impact of the threats is low, but what makes the Google Platform so prone to malware? For sure not vulnerabilities: everything with a line of code is vulnerable, and, at least for the moment, a recent study from Symantec has found only 18 vulnerabilities for Google OS against 300 found for iOS (please do no question on the different age of the two OSes I only want to show that vulnerabilities are common and in this context Android is comparable with its main competitor).
Going back to the initial question there are at least three factors which make Android different:
- The application permission model relies too heavily on the user,
- The security policy for the market has proven to be weak,
- The platform too easily allows to install applications from untrusted sources with the sideloading feature.
As far as the first point is concerned: some commenters correctly noticed that apps do not install themselves on their own, but need, at least for the first installation, the explicit user consent. Well I wonder: how many “casual users” in your opinion regularly check permissions during application installation? And, even worse, as far as business users are concerned, the likely targets of cybercrime who consider the device as a mere work tool: do you really think that business users check app permission during installation? Of course a serious organization should avoid the associated risks with a firm device management policy before considering a wide deployment of similar devices, most of all among CxOs; but unfortunately we live in an imperfect world and too much often fashion and trends are faster (and stronger) than Security Policies and also make the device to be used principally for other things than its business primary role, hugely increasing risks.
This point is a serious security concern, as a matter of fact many security vendors (in my opinion the security industry is in delay in this context) offer Device Management Solution aimed to complete the native Application Access Control model. Besides it is not a coincidence that some rumors claim that Google is going to modify (enhance) the app permission security process.
As far as the second point is concerned (Android Market security policy), after the DroidDream affair, (and the following fake security update), it is clear that the Android Market Publishing (and Security) model needs to be modified, making it more similar to the App Store. There are several proposals in this context, of course in this place is not my intention to question on them but only to stress that the issue is real.
Last but not least Sideloading is something that makes Android very different from other platforms (read Apple), Apple devices do not allow to install untrusted apps unless you do not Jailbreak the devices. Android simply needs the user to flag an option (By The Way many vendors are opening their Android devices to root or alternate ROMs, consider for instance LG which in Italy does not invalidate the Warranty for rooted devices) or HTC which, on May 27, stated they will no longer have been locking the bootloaders on their devices.
So definitively the three above factors (together with the growing market shares) make Android more appealing for malware developers and this is not due to an intrinsic weakness of the platform rather than a security platform model which is mainly driven by the user and not locked by Manufacturer as it happens in case of Cupertino.
It looks like that the Perfidious Albion is not what one should exactly define a Paradise for Mobile Security. Not only the echoes of the Scandal concerning “voicemail hacking” led the infamous tabloid News Of the World to close on Sunday, the 10th of July 2011, and Rebekah Brooks to resign as CEO of News International today; but also the flow of events has unexpectedly brought mobile security issues to the attention of a wider audience, no more confined to the sole and exclusive attention of information security professionals.
This is partially due to the relative easiness in implementing similar hacking techniques in mobile communications, which is raising doubts and misgivings in many other countries. As a matter of fact, as actually happened, voicemail hacking is relatively easy to implement and is based, as usual, on two factors:
- From the user perspective, on the poor attention for default (in)security settings;
- From the operator perspective, on the necessary trade-off between security, user experience, and convenience, (almost) always favoring the latter, which turns out not to be an optimal choice from a security perspective.
A lethal mix wich may be quite easily exploited by a balanced blend made of (little) hacking and (a lot of) social engineering. At this link a really complete and interesting description very helpful to understand how relatively easy is to perform voicemail hacking with some U.K. operators (but keep in mind that procedures vary from Operator to Operator). Accorrding to the above quoted article, in theory, it is possible to elude the meshes of the security procedures of the operators, simply calling the voicemail of the victim impersonating the legitimate user, claiming to have forgotten the PIN and voila, that’s it!
Voicemail hacking does not need further components, but unfortunately is not the only issue that may happen: in theory entire conversations may be hijacked (and unfortunately it is something we are quite familiar to, here in Italy). The Security Process of a phone conversations is an end-to-end chain, inside which technology is only a component, and the human factor is the weakest link. In this context weak means leak so that often it happens that some information that should not be disclosed are delivered to media (even if irrelevant to any ongoing investigations) with devastating aftermaths for investigations themselves and for victims’ privacy.
The scenario is further complicated with the new generation of smartphones, where technology (and the ongoing process of Consumerization of Information Technology) leaves virtually no limits to the imagination of attackers: not only voicemail hacking, but also mobile malware (a threat which does not need the unintended cooperation of the Operator) capable of extracting any information from devices. The dramatic events in U.K. involved using stolen data for squalid journalistic purposes, but, since mobile devices are nowadays indispensable companions of our everyday lives, nothing prevents, in theory, to use the same or different methods to steal other kinds of information such as confidential data, banking transaction identifiers, etc… Do you really need a confirm? For instance the recent evolution of the Infamous ZiTMo mobile malware that has just landed on Android (the continuing metamorphosis of this malware is really meaningful: born on the Windows platform, it has rapidly spread on Windows CE, Symbian, and now, last but not least, Android). Since it is expected that 5.6% of iPhones/Android handsets is going to be infected in the next 12 months, there is much to worry. In this context what happened in U.K. may constitute a dangerous precedent and a dramatic source of inspiration for organized cybercrime.
Fears that similar occurrences could happen in other countries are rapidly spreading. As a consequence some countries are moving fast to prevent them.
In the U.S., in wake of U.K. Hacking, Representative Mary Bono Mack, a California Republican who chairs the House subcommittee on commerce, manufacturing and trade, is contacting handset manufacturer companies including Apple, Google, Research in Motion, and wireless companies as well, such as AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel, to determine if there are any vulnerabilities in cell phones or mobile devices which can be exploited by criminals and other unscrupulous individuals. Clearly the final target is to prevent similar events from ever happening in the United States.
For the Chronicle, on June 13 Bono Mack released draft legislation which aims to tighten data security for companies victims of data breaches. Under the proposal, companies that experience a breach that exposes consumer data would have 48 hours to contact law enforcement agencies and begin assessing the potential damage.
Immediately after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is considering investigation into News Corp. for the same reson.
Anyway U.S. is not the only country worried about, as similar concerns are raising in Canada, and I may easily imagine that other countries will soon deal the same stuff.
A final curious notice: a further confirm that U.K. is not the paradise for mobile security came this morning when I stumbled upon this wiki which happily shows how to hack a Vodafone femto cell (just released to public) in order to, among the other things, intercept traffic, perform call frauds (place calls or send SMS on on behalf of somebody else SIM card).
The best (or the worst, it depends on the points of view) is yet to come…
- How not to get your phone hacked (blogs.journalism.co.uk)
- Hacking into U.S., U.K. phones easier than in Canada, but remain wary (canada.com)
- Lawmakers Question Cell Phone Privacy In Wake Of Hacking Scandal (techdailydose.nationaljournal.com)
The last malware inside the Android Market, dubbed Plankton, has been discovered by the same team which discovered DroidKungFu led by Xuxian Jiang, Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University. Although the brand new malware does not root the device, it has the bad habit to hide itself inside familiar apps related to the popular game Angry Birds. The suspected apps were removed on 6/5/2011, but since the malware leverages a new evasion technique which allowed it to stay in the market for more than 2 months without being detected by current mobile anti-malware software, but being downloaed more than 100.000 times.
Plankton is included in host apps by adding a background service: when the infected app runs, it will bring up the background service which collects information, including the device ID as well as the list of granted permissions to the infected app, and send them back to a remote server discovered by Sophos to be hosted in the Amazon Cloud.
The server replies with a URL that is used to download an additional JAR file with custom code that is loaded by the downloader.
Once the JAR file is downloaded, Plankton uses a technique for loading additional code from non-Market websites demonstrated by Jon Oberheide about a year ago, providing a potential attacker with a method of circumventing checks of application functionality by Google or by another Android Market provider.
The downloaded code launches another connection to the Command server and listens for commands to execute.
Although this malware does not root the phone, its approach of loading additional code does not allow security software on Android to inspect the downloaded file in the usual “on-access” fashion, but only through scheduled and “on-demand” scans. This is the reason why the malware was not discovered before.
As a consequence the pressure on Google is building on two fronts: on one side, users are demanding better security and on the other side security vendors are asking for better operating system interfaces to make security software more effective against the ever-increasing tide of Android malware.
- Plankton malware drifts into Android Market (nakedsecurity.sophos.com)
One of the most surprising things I noticed concerning the Lockheed Martin Affair, was the affirmation contained in the Reuters Article, made by Rick Moy, president of NSS Labs, indicating that the initial RSA attack was followed by malware and phishing campaigns seeking specific data to link tokens to end-users (an indirect evidence of the same authors behind the infamous RSA breach and the Lockheed Martin attack.
My initial surprise only lasted few seconds, since, this year is showing us a brand new role for the phishing attacks which are more and more targeted to steal corporate sensitive data, and constitute the first level of attack for Advanced Persistent Threats.
At first sight could be quite difficult to believe that users are still tricked by old-school phishing techniques, but a deeper analysis could show in my opinion, a possible (in part psychological) explanation relying on the fact that the users themselves are still used to think to phishing as something targeted to steal personal information (often with pages crafted with gross errors), and seems to be unprepared to face the new shape of phishing which targets corporate information with cybercrime purposes and industrial methods, which definitively means to perpetrate the attack with plausible and convincing methods, and most of all leveraging arguments the user hardly doubts about (I could doubt of an E-mail from my bank asking me to provide my account and credit card number, maybe, most of all in case I am not an infosec professional, I could feel more comfortable in providing my username to a (fake) provisioning portal of my Company).
But my information security beliefs are falling one after the other, and after reading this really interesting article by Adrienne Porter Felt and David Wagner of the University of California (the marvelous LaTeX layout!) I can only confirm that mobile devices will be next frontier of phishing.
According to this paper the risk of a success of a phishing attack on mobile devices is dramatically greater than traditional devices due to some intrinsic factors such as the smaller size of the screen, the fact that many applications embed or redirect to web pages (and vice versa some or web pages redirect to applications), the fact that mobile browsers hide the address bar, and most of all the absence of application identity indicators (read the article and discover how easily a fake native application can resemble completely a browser page) which makes very difficult to discover if a certain operation is calling a fake application on the device or it is redirecting the user to a fake application resembling a legitimate login form.
Moreover, the intrinsic factors are worsened by (as usual) the user’s behavior: as a matter of fact (but this is not a peculiarity of mobile devices), users often ignore security indicators, do not check application permissions and are more and more used to legitimate applications continuously asking for passwords with embedded login forms and. Last but not least I would add the fact that they are not still used to think to mobile applications as targets of phishing (Zitmo Docet).
Guess what are the ideal candidates for Mobile Phishing attacks? Easy to say! Facebook and Twitter since they are the most common linked applications used by developers to share their creations (the power of free viral marketing!).
Given the speed with which these devices are spreading in the enterprise (see for instance this GigaOM infographic), there is much to worry about in the near future. An interesting solution could be the operating system to support a trusted password entry mechanism. Will SpoofKiller-like trusted login mechanisms be our salvation as the authors of the paper hope?
- More Random Thoughts on the RSA Breach (paulsparrows.wordpress.com)
- Mobile Phones Are Great for Phishers, Researchers Find (pcworld.com)
The thought of this night is dedicated to yet another couple of android malwares detected (as usual) in China.
It was a bit of time that the droid was not sick, however, as the change of season is often fatal to humans, so it is for the Androids which caught two new infections in few days.
On May, the 11th, it was the turn of a new Trojan embedded, once again as in the case of the notorious DroidDream (but I’d rather say that malware is becoming a nightmare for the Google Creature) in official applications inside the Android Market. All the applications were published by the same developer, Zsone, and were suddenly removed by Google.
The Trojan, which affects Chinese users, is characterized by the ability to subscribe users in China to premium rate QQ codes via SMS without their knowledge. QQ codes, used primarily in China, are a form of short code that can subscribe users to SMS update or instant message services. The malware was embedded in 10 apps by the developer named Zsone available on the Android Market and alternative markets.
Once the user starts the app on their phone, the app will silently send an SMS message to subscribe the user to a premium-rate SMS service without their authorization or knowledge. This may result in charges to the affected phone owner’s mobile accounts. Even if the threat affects Chinese Android phone owners who downloaded the app from the Android Market, the total number of downloads attributed to this app in the Android Market has appeared to be under 10,000. All instances of the threat have been removed from the market.
On May, the 12th, it was the turn of ANDROIDOS_TCENT.A, discovered by Trend Micro. This malware, which only affects China Mobile subscribers (the state-owned service provider considered the world’s largest mobile phone operator), arrived to users through a link sent through SMS, whose message invited the China Mobile users to install a patch for their supposedly vulnerable devices by accessing the given link, which actually led to a malicious file (fake AV have landed on mobile devices as well).
The malware is capable to obtain certain information about the affected devices such as IMEI number, phone model, and SDK version and connects to a certain URL to request for an XML configuration file.
Two very different infections, having a common origin from China: the first example emphasizes once again the breaches into the security and reputation model of the Android Market. The second one features a well established infection model who is rapidly gaining credit (and victims) also in the mobile world: the SMS phishing. I think we will often hear speaking about in the next months.
The two malware infections came a couple of days after the Malicious Mobile Threats Report 2010/2011 issued by Juniper Networks which indicated a 400% increase in Android malware since summer 2010 and other key findings, several of which were clearly found in the above mentioned infections:
- App Store Threats: That is the single greatest distribution point for mobile malware is application download, yet the vast majority of smartphone users are not employing an endpoint security solution on their mobile device to scan for malware;
- Wi-Fi Threats: Mobile devices are increasingly susceptible to Wi-Fi attacks, including applications that enable an attacker to easily log into victim email and social networking applications
- 17 percent of all reported infections were due to SMS trojans that sent SMS messages to premium rate numbers, often at irretrievable cost to the user or enterprise
- Device Loss and Theft: according to the author of the report: 1 in 20 among the Juniper customer devices were lost or stolen, requiring locate, lock or wipe commands to be issued
Will it also be for these reasons that Smartphone security software market is expected to reach $2.99 billion by 2017? Maybe! Meanwhile I recommend to be very careful to install applications from parallel markets and in any case (since we have seen that this is not enough) to always check the application permissions during installation. Moreover, do not forget to install a security software if possible as the 23% of the droid users (among which there is me) does.
- Android market affected by SMS Trojans (nakedsecurity.sophos.com)
- Security Alert: Zsone Trojan found in Android Market (mylookout.com)
- Update: Android Malware DroidDream: How it Works (mylookout.com)