Mobile
News
7/5/2012
11:58 AM
Connect Directly
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Android Researchers Demo Clickjacking Rootkit Vulnerability

Proof-of-concept malware can be used to launch malicious applications, with no warning or rebooting required, computer scientists show.

Samsung's Android Super Smartphone: Galaxy SIII
Samsung's Android Super Smartphone: Galaxy SIII
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Some versions of the Android mobile operating system are vulnerable to being exploited by a "clickjacking rootkit," which could be disguised as a legitimate app that--when downloaded and run--might surreptitiously take control of the device.

That warning comes by way of Xuxian Jiang, an assistant professor of computer science at North Carolina State University (N.C. State), who led a research team at the university that found a weakness in Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and prior versions. Jiang then built a proof-of-concept rootkit to exploit the vulnerability, which exists not in the operating system kernel, but within the Android framework on which the kernel runs.

"The rootkit could be downloaded with an infected app, and once established, could manipulate the smartphone," according to details released by N.C. State.

"For example, the rootkit could hide the smartphone's browser and replace it with a browser that looks and acts exactly the same--but steals all of the information you enter, such as banking or credit card data," it said. "But the rootkit's functionality is not limited to replacing the browser--it could be used to hide and replace any or all of the apps on a smartphone."

"This would be a more sophisticated type of attack than we've seen before, specifically tailored to smartphone platforms. The rootkit was not that difficult to develop, and no existing mobile security software is able to detect it," said Jiang in a statement. "But there is good news. Now that we've identified the problem, we can begin working on ways to protect against attacks like these."

[ Employees are ready and willing to use their own computers to get work done. Consider these 4 Steps To A Successful BYOC Program. ]

Google didn't immediately respond to an emailed request for its comment on Jiang's proof-of-concept rootkit research, such as the practicality of such an attack, or how soon it might patch the underlying--and as yet publicly unspecified--vulnerability. Given that the Android framework includes Java-compatible libraries based on Apache Harmony, it's possible the underlying vulnerability has to do with Android's Java implementation.

This is far from Jiang's first foray into Android malware territory. His previous research has detailed the GingerMaster and RootSmart Android rootkits, as well as how add-on Android software and skins, included by some device makers in their distributions of the operating system, can make those versions of Android more susceptible to being attacked and exploited.

Jiang is also the driving force behind the Android Malware Genome Project, announced in May. The project aims to share Android malware samples with the security community, to help security experts better understand how malware attacks unfold and evolve and design better defenses. To date, 1,200 Android malware samples have been collected by N.C. State, and the project has shared data with 129 universities, research labs, and companies, including Google, the National University of Singapore, Purdue University, Symantec, and Tsinghua University in China.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
InformationWeek Elite 100
InformationWeek Elite 100
Our data shows these innovators using digital technology in two key areas: providing better products and cutting costs. Almost half of them expect to introduce a new IT-led product this year, and 46% are using technology to make business processes more efficient.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest - August 20, 2014
CIOs need people who know the ins and outs of cloud software stacks and security, and, most of all, can break through cultural resistance.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.