Check Point researchers recently spotted a flaw in one of Android’s security mechanisms. This flaw exposes Android users to several types of attacks, including ransomware, banking malware and adware.
Check Point researchers say they have spotted a flaw in one of Android’s security mechanisms. Based on Google’s policy which grants extensive permissions to apps installed directly from Google Play, this flaw exposes Android users to several types of attacks, including ransomware, banking malware and adware. Check Point reported this flaw to Google, which responded that this issue is already being dealt with in the upcoming version of Android, currently dubbed “Android O”.
In Android version 6.0.0, dubbed “Marshmallow”, Google introduced a new permission model for apps. The new model consists of several groups of permissions, with permissions considered as “dangerous” granted only during runtime. This means that during the first time an app tries to access a “dangerous” resource, the user is required to approve the necessary permission.
In addition to the “dangerous” permissions, another category exists, which contains a single permission – SYSTEM_ALERT_WINDOW. Unlike the other permissions, to grant it, the user must go through several menus (Settings -> Apps -> Draw over other apps) and manually allow an app to use it.
The reason SYSTEM_ALERT_WINDOW is unique is the extensive capability it withholds, by enabling an app to display over any other app without notifying the user. This entails a significant potential for several malicious techniques, such as displaying fraudulent ads, phishing scams, click-jacking, and overlay windows, which are common with banking Trojans. It can also be used by ransomware to create a persistent on-top screen that will prevent non-technical users from accessing their devices. According to our findings, 74% of ransomware, 57% of adware, and 14% of banker malware abuse this permission as part of their operation. This is clearly not a minor threat, but an actual tactic used in the wild.
Since Google understood the problematic nature of this permission, and the apparent risks for user privacy it created the distinct process mentioned above to approve it. However, this soon caused problems, as this permission is also used by legitimate apps, such as Facebook, which requires it for its Messenger chat heads feature. Since most users won’t be able to approve the permission manually, such apps could be hurt by it.
As a temporary solution, Google applied a patch in Android version 6.0.1 that allows the Play Store app to grant run-time permissions, which are later used to grant SYSTEM_ALERT_WINDOW permission to apps installed from the app store. This means that a malicious app downloaded directly from the app store will be automatically granted this dangerous permission.
Based on Check Point research, nearly 45% of the applications using the SYSTEM_ALERT_WINDOW permission are apps from Google Play. With the granting of SYSTEM_ALERT_WINDOW permission to apps installed from the app store, Google effectively bypasses the security mechanism introduced in the previous version. Google relies heavily on “Bouncer”, which scans apps uploaded to Google Play, to keep harmful apps out of it. Unfortunately, malicious apps successfully infiltrate Google Play time after time. FalseGuide and Skinner discovered on Google Play are two recent examples.
Google is working on a fix
After Check Point reported this flaw, Google responded it has already set plans to protect users against this threat in the upcoming version “Android O”. This will be done by creating a new restrictive permission called TYPE_APPLICATION_OVERLAY, which blocks windows from being positioned above any critical system windows, allowing users to access settings and block an app from displaying alert windows.
How to stay protected in the meantime?
· Beware of fishy apps
Users should always beware of malicious apps, even when downloading from Google Play. Look for the comments left by other users, and grant only permissions which have relevant context for the app’s purpose.
· Implement advanced security measures
Just as you protect your PC with dedicated security solutions, you should also make sure to protect your mobile device using a protective solution capable of identifying and blocking known and unknown malware.
Crouching Yeti strikes
Kaspersky Lab has uncovered infrastructure used by the Russian-speaking APT group Crouching Yeti, also known as Energetic Bear, which includes compromised servers across the world.
According to the research, numerous servers in different countries were hit since 2016, sometimes in order to gain access to other resources. Others, including those hosting Russian websites, were used as watering holes.
Crouching Yeti is a Russian-speaking advanced persistent threat (APT) group that Kaspersky Lab has been tracking since 2010. It is best known for targeting industrial sectors around the world, with a primary focus on energy facilities, for the main purpose of stealing valuable data from victim systems. One of the techniques the group has been widely using is through watering hole attacks: the attackers injected websites with a link redirecting visitors to a malicious server.
Recently Kaspersky Lab has discovered a number of servers, compromised by the group, belonging to different organisations based in Russia, the U.S., Turkey and European countries, and not limited to industrial companies. According to researchers, they were hit in 2016 and 2017 with different purposes. Thus, besides watering hole, in some cases they were used as intermediaries to conduct attacks on other resources.
In the process of analysing infected servers, researchers identified numerous websites and servers used by organisations in Russia, U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America that the attackers had scanned with various tools, possibly to find a server that could be used to establish a foothold for hosting the attackers’ tools and to subsequently develop an attack. Some of the sites scanned may have been of interest to the attackers as candidates for waterhole. The range of websites and servers that captured the attention of the intruders is extensive. Kaspersky Lab researchers found that the attackers had scanned numerous websites of different types, including online stores and services, public organisations, NGOs, manufacturing, etc.
Also, experts found that the group used publicly available malicious tools, designed for analyzing servers, and for seeking out and collecting information. In addition, a modified sshd file with a preinstalled backdoor was discovered. This was used to replace the original file and could be authorised with a ‘master password’.
“Crouching Yeti is a notorious Russian-speaking group that has been active for many years and is still successfully targeting industrial organisations through watering hole attacks, among other techniques. Our findings show that the group compromised servers not only for establishing watering holes, but also for further scanning, and they actively used open-sourced tools that made it much harder to identify them afterwards,” said Vladimir Dashchenko, Head of Vulnerability Research Group at Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT.
“The group’s activities, such as initial data collection, the theft of authentication data, and the scanning of resources, are used to launch further attacks. The diversity of infected servers and scanned resources suggests the group may operate in the interests of the third parties,” he added.
Kaspersky Lab recommends that organisations implement a comprehensive framework against advanced threats comprising of dedicated security solutions for targeted attack detection and incident response, along with expert services and threat intelligence. As a part of Kaspersky Threat Management and Defense, our anti-targeted attack platform detects an attack at early stages by analysing suspicious network activity, while Kaspersky EDR brings improved endpoint visibility, investigation capabilities and response automation. These are enhanced with global threat intelligence and Kaspersky Lab’s expert services with specialisation in threat hunting and incident response.
More details on this recent Crouching Yeti activity can be found on the Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT website.
R5m in software fines
South African companies paid almost R5.2 million in damages for using unlicensed software in 2017 up from R3.6 million in 2016.
This is according to data from BSA | The Software Alliance, a non-profit, global trade association created to advance the goals of the software industry and its hardware partners.
The significant increase in unlicensed software payments – which includes settlements as well as the cost of acquiring new software to become compliant – is the result of more accurate leads from informers, says Darren Olivier, Partner at Adams & Adams, legal counsel for BSA. In 2017 BSA received 281 reports in South Africa alleging the use of unlicensed software products of BSA member companies – this up considerably up from 230 leads in 2016.
“BSA’s recent social media campaign also helped to create awareness among local companies about the need to comply with existing legislation in order to avoid legal action,” Olivier says.
The result has been a 13% increase in settlements paid in 2017, with the settlements total reaching almost R2.5 million.
While the average settlement paid by companies in 2017 was around R36 094, in some cases the amount owed was far greater, as is evidenced by Shereno Printers, a print and design company based in Gauteng, which ended up paying a hefty settlement amount of R260 000 last year in an out of court settlement.
The company’s case was in line with a broader trend, which saw the print and design industry as a whole rank among the top sectors plagued by unlicensed software.
Aside from settlements, companies also paid more than R2.6 million in licenses purchased to legalise their unlicensed software.
And the ramifications of software piracy extend beyond financial implications. “It also results in potential job losses and loss in tax revenue. This is not to mention the financial and reputational damage brought about by security breaches and lost data,” comments Olivier.
As unlicensed software has not been updated with the latest security features, it leaves businesses vulnerable to cyberattack, he explains.
This is a particular problem for companies operating in South Africa where economic crime has recently reached record levels, according to the Global Economic Crime Survey. Indeed, 77% of South African organisations have experienced some form of economic crime. What’s more, instances of cybercrime totalled 29% of economic crimes reported.
This in turn, raises questions around government policy and the adequacy of existing copyright legislation, which only enables the registration of copyright in films, but not in computer programs.
Olivier notes that it is likely the percentage of unlicensed software on South African computers has increased over the past year. “We received many more leads this year, which is an indicator that the amount of pirated software is greater than in previous years,” he comments.
Often unlicensed software is not so much a case of deliberate piracy as it is a result of poor software asset management (SAM).
“For this reason, the BSA encourages all businesses to ensure they have effective SAM practices in place. Companies should be able to confirm what software they are using and are licensed to use – this will help them to identify unlicensed software and can also bring about cost savings. Even the most basic SAM practices such as regular inventories and software use policies can help,” says Chair of the BSA SA Committee, Billa Coetsee.
With this in mind the BSA offers a range of SAM solutions, not only to help organisations reduce legal and security risks, but also to create business value.