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Viking Horde invades Google Play

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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

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.

google play top free

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.

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:

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.

How vikings works

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.

Botnet Activity

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.

Botnet activity

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.

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:

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.

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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.

“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.

Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”

“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”

“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.

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