The Check Point research team recently uncovered a new Android malware campaign on Google Play, which it calls: Viking Horde. The malware campaign is being used for fraud, DDoS attacks and to send spam.
Viking Horde conducts ad fraud, but can also be used for other attack purposes such as DDoS attacks, spam messages, and more. At least five instances of Viking Horde managed to bypass Google Play malware scans so far.
Check Point notified Google about the malware on 5 May 2016.
On all devices — rooted or not — Viking Horde creates a botnet that uses proxied IP addresses to disguise ad clicks, generating revenue for the attacker. A botnet is a group of devices controlled by hackers without the knowledge of their owners. The bots are used for various reasons based on the distributed computing capabilities of all the devices. The larger the botnet, the greater its capabilities.
On rooted devices, Viking Horde delivers additional malware payloads that can execute any code remotely, potentially compromising the security of data on the device. It also takes advantage of root access privileges to make itself difficult or even impossible to remove manually.
Meet the Horde
The most widely-downloaded instance of Viking Horde is the app: Viking Jump, which was uploaded to Google Play on 15 April 2016, and has achieved 50,000 – 100,000 downloads. In some local markets, Viking Jump is a Google Play top free app.
The oldest instance is Wi-Fi Plus, which was uploaded to Google Play on 29 March 2016. Other instances include the apps Memory Booster, Parrot Copter, and Simple 2048. All Viking Horde-infected apps have a relatively low reputation which the research team speculates may be because users have noticed the odd behaviour, such as asking for root permissions.
The botnet created by the attackers spread worldwide to users from various targeted countries. The Check Point research team collected data on the distribution of victims from one of the many Command & Control servers (C&C’s) used by attackers, which is illustrated below:
How Viking Horde Works
From its research of Viking Horde’s code and the C&C servers used in the attack, our research team can illustrate the malware process flow.
1. The malware is first installed from Google Play. While the app initiates the game, it installs several components, outside of the application’s directory. The components are randomly named with pseudo-system words from a preset list, such as core.bin, clib.so, android.bin and update.bin. They are installed on the SD card if the device is not rooted, and to root/data if it is. One of these files is used to exchange information between the malware’s components. A second file contains the list of the generated names of the components, to make them available to all components.
2. The malware then checks whether the device is rooted:
- If the device is rooted, the malware initiates two additional components:
app_exec. Implements communication protocol with the server.
app_exec_watch_dog Binary implements update and persistency mechanism. Watchdog monitors app_exec process and restarts it if needed.
- If the device is not rooted, the malware loads app_exec file as a shared library and calls its functions by JNI – Java Native Interface, which allows Java code run native binaries
In both scenarios, once app_exec application is installed, it establishes a TCP connection with the C&C server and starts the communication. The communication consists of the following commands:
- Ping. Every 10 seconds application sends 5 bytes to the server. The server responds with the same 5 bytes.
- Update of device information: Sends to server charge battery, type of connection and phone number.
- The next step is to accomplish the main malicious functionality by creating an anonymous proxy connection. The C&C sends a “create_proxy” command with two IP addresses and ports as parameters. These IP addresses are used to open two sockets one for a remote server (which is a client of the botnet exploiting the anonymous proxy) and the other for the remote target. Then it reads the data received from the first socket and channels it to the target host. Using this technique, the malware developer (or someone using this botnet as “malware as a service”) can hide his IP behind the infected device’s IP.
It is important to understand that even if the device is not rooted, Viking Horde turns the device into a proxy capable of sending and receiving information per the attacker’s commands. Below is an example of an infected device as seen from an attacker’s C&C. The remoteIP is the proxy’s IP, and the socksIP is the C&C server’s IP. The C&C contains some information about the device including its OS version, battery status, and GPS coordinates. In this case, the device is located in the US on T-Mobile.
The botnet is controlled by many C&C servers, each managing a few hundred devices. The malware’s primary objective is to hijack a device and then use it to simulate clicks on advertisements in websites to accumulate profit. The malware needs this proxy to bypass ad-nets’ anti-fraud mechanisms by using distributed IPs.
Some user reviews of the app also claim it sends premium SMS messages, as seen in the screen capture below. This botnet could be used for various malicious purposes, such as DDoS attacks, spamming and delivering malware.
Vikings are a Persistent Horde
The malware uses several techniques to remain on the device. First, Viking Horde installs several components with system-related names, so that they are hard to locate and uninstall.
If the device is rooted, two more mechanisms are set in place:
The app_exec component monitors the main application’s existence. If the user uninstalled the main application, app_exec decrypts a component called com.android.security and silently installs it. This component will be hidden, and run after boot. This component is a copy of itself and has the same capabilities.
The watchdog component installs the app_exec component updates. If app_exec is removed, the watchdog will reinstall it from the update folder.
Apparently, some users even noticed this activity:
Bonus component for rooted devices
Perhaps the most dangerous functionality is the update mechanism. The update mechanism is split between app_exec and watchdog components. app_exec downloads the new binary from the server and stores it to /data directory with the app_exec_update name.
Watchdog periodically checks if an update file exists and replaces app_exec with this file. This means that upon the server’s command, Viking Horde downloads a new binary. The watchdog component will replace the application with it. This allows downloading and executing any remote code on the device.
Now download a bank account
Absa has introduced an end-to-end account opening for new customers, through the Absa Banking App, which can be downloaded from the Android and Apple app stores. This follows the launch of the world first ChatBanking on WhatsApp service.
This “download your account” feature enables new customers to Absa, to open a Cheque account, order their card and start transacting on the Absa Banking App, all within minutes, from anywhere and at any time, by downloading it from the App stores.
“Overall, this new capability is not only expected to enhance the customer’s digital experience, but we expect to leverage this in our branches, bringing digital experiences to the branch environment and making it easier for our customers to join and bank with us regardless of where they may be,” says Aupa Monyatsi, Managing Executive for Virtual Channels at Absa Retail & Business Banking.
“With this innovation comes the need to ensure that the security of our customers is at the heart of our digital experience, this is why the digital onboarding experience for this feature includes a high-quality facial matching check with the Department of Home Affairs to verify the customer’s identity, ensuring that we have the most up to date information of our clients. Security is supremely important for us.”
The new version of the Absa Banking App is now available in the Apple and Android App stores, and anyone with a South African ID can become an Absa customer, by following these simple steps:
- Download the Absa App
- Choose the account you would like to open
- Tell us who you are
- To keep you safe, we will verify your cell phone number
- Take a selfie, and we will do facial matching with the Department of Home Affairs to confirm you are who you say you are
- Tell us where you live
- Let us know what you do for a living and your income
- Click Apply.
How we use phones to avoid human contact
A recent study by Kaspersky Lab has found that 75% of people pick up their connected device to avoid conversing with another human being.
Connected devices are becoming essential to keeping people in contact with each other, but for many they are also a much-needed comfort blanket in a variety of social situations when they do not want to interact with others. A recent survey from Kaspersky Lab has confirmed this trend in behaviour after three-quarters of people (75%) admitted they use a device to pretend to be busy when they don’t want to talk to someone else, showing the importance of keeping connected devices protected under all circumstances.
Imagine you’ve arrived at a bar and you’re waiting for your date. The bar is busy, and people are chatting all around you. What do you do now? Strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know? Grab your phone from your pocket or handbag until your date arrives to keep yourself busy? Why talk to humans or even make eye-contact with someone else when you can stare at your connected device instead?
The truth is, our use of devices is making it much easier to avoid small talk or even be polite to those around us, and new Kaspersky Lab research has found that 72% of people use one when they do not know what to do in a social situation. They are also the ‘go-to’ distraction for people even when they aren’t trying to look busy or avoid someone’s eye. 46% of people admit to using a device just to kill time every day and 44% use it as a daily distraction.
In addition to just being a distraction, devices are also a lifeline to those who would rather not talk directly to another person in day-to-day situations, to complete essential tasks. In fact, nearly a third (31%) of people would prefer to carry out tasks such as ordering a taxi or finding directions to where they need to go via a website and an app, because they find it an easier experience than speaking with another person.
Whether they are helping us avoid direct contact or filling a void in our daily lives, our constant reliance on devices has become a cause for panic when they become unusable. A third (34%) of people worry that they will not be able to entertain themselves if they cannot access a connected device. 12% are even concerned that they won’t be able to pretend to be busy if their device is out of action.
Dmitry Aleshin, VP for Product Marketing, Kaspersky Lab said, “The reliance on connected devices is impacting us in more ways than we could have ever expected. There is no doubt that being connected gives us the freedom to make modern life easier, but devices are also vital to help people get through different and difficult social situations. No matter what your ‘connection crutch’ is, it is essential to make sure your device is online and available when you need it most.”
To ensure your device lifeline is always there and in top health – no matter what the reason or situation – Kaspersky Security Cloud keeps your connection safe and secure:
· I want to use my device while waiting for a friend – is it secure to access the bar’s Wi-Fi?
With Kaspersky Security Cloud, devices are protected against network threats, even if the user needs to use insecure public Wi-Fi hotspots. This is done through transferring data via an encrypted channel to ensure personal data safety, so users’ devices are protected on any connection.
· Oh no! I’m bored but my phone’s battery is getting low – what am I going to do?
Users can track their battery level thanks to a countdown of how many minutes are left until their device shuts down in the Kaspersky Security Cloud interface. There is also a wide-range of portable power supplies available to keep device batteries charged while on-the-go.
· I’ve lost my phone! How will I keep myself entertained now?
Should the unthinkable happen and you lose or have your phone stolen, Kaspersky Security Cloud can track and protect your device from data breaches, for complete peace of mind. Remote lock and locate features ensure your device remains secure until you are reunited.