Vulnerabilities / Threats
3/5/2014
04:12 PM
Dark Reading
Dark Reading
Products and Releases
50%
50%

New Technique Targets C Code To Spot, Contain Malware Attacks

Practical Root Exploit Containment tool refines anomaly detection

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a new tool to detect and contain malware that attempts root exploits in Android devices. The tool improves on previous techniques by targeting code written in the C programming language – which is often used to create root exploit malware, whereas the bulk of Android applications are written in Java.

Root exploits take over the system administration functions of an operating system, such as Android. A successful Android root exploit effectively gives hackers unfettered control of a user's smartphone.

The new security tool is called Practical Root Exploit Containment (PREC). It refines an existing technique called anomaly detection, which compares the behavior of a downloaded smartphone application (or app), such as Angry Birds, with a database of how the application should be expected to behave.

When deviations from normal behavior are detected, PREC analyzes them to determine if they are malware or harmless "false positives." If PREC determines that an app is attempting root exploit, it effectively contains the malicious code and prevents it from being executed.

"Anomaly detection isn't new, and it has a problematic history of reporting a lot of false positives," says Dr. Will Enck, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work. "What sets our approach apart is that we are focusing solely on C code, which is what most – if not all – Android root exploits are written in."

"Taking this approach has significantly driven down the number of false positives," says Dr. Helen Gu, an associate professor of computer science at NC State and co-author of the paper. "This reduces disturbances for users and makes anomaly detection more practical."

The researchers are hoping to work with app vendors, such as Google Play, to establish a database of normal app behavior.

Most app vendors screen their products for malware, but malware programmers have developed techniques for avoiding detection – hiding the malware until users have downloaded the app and run it on their smartphones.

The NC State research team wants to take advantage of established vendor screening efforts to create a database of each app's normal behavior. This could be done by having vendors incorporate PREC software into their app assessment processes. The software would take the app behavior data and create an external database, but would not otherwise affect the screening process.

"We have already implemented the PREC system and tested it on real Android devices," Gu says. "We are now looking for industry partners to deploy PREC, so that we can protect Android users from root exploits."

The paper, "PREC: Practical Root Exploit Containment for Android Devices," will be presented at the Fourth ACM Conference on Data and Application Security and Privacy being held March 3-5 in San Antonio, Texas. Lead author of the paper is former NC State graduate student Tsung-Hsuan Ho. The paper was co-authored by Daniel Dean, a Ph.D. student in Gu's lab at NC State.

The work was supported by the National Security Agency; U.S. Army Research Office grant W911NF-10-1-0273; National Science Foundation grants CNS-1149445, CNS-1253346, and CNS-1222680; IBM Faculty Awards and Google Research Awards.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Dark Reading Tech Digest, Dec. 19, 2014
Software-defined networking can be a net plus for security. The key: Work with the network team to implement gradually, test as you go, and take the opportunity to overhaul your security strategy.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2013-4440
Published: 2014-12-19
Password Generator (aka Pwgen) before 2.07 generates weak non-tty passwords, which makes it easier for context-dependent attackers to guess the password via a brute-force attack.

CVE-2013-4442
Published: 2014-12-19
Password Generator (aka Pwgen) before 2.07 uses weak pseudo generated numbers when /dev/urandom is unavailable, which makes it easier for context-dependent attackers to guess the numbers.

CVE-2013-7401
Published: 2014-12-19
The parse_request function in request.c in c-icap 0.2.x allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (crash) via a URI without a " " or "?" character in an ICAP request, as demonstrated by use of the OPTIONS method.

CVE-2014-2026
Published: 2014-12-19
Cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability in the search functionality in United Planet Intrexx Professional before 5.2 Online Update 0905 and 6.x before 6.0 Online Update 10 allows remote attackers to inject arbitrary web script or HTML via the request parameter.

CVE-2014-2716
Published: 2014-12-19
Ekahau B4 staff badge tag 5.7 with firmware 1.4.52, Real-Time Location System (RTLS) Controller 6.0.5-FINAL, and Activator 3 reuses the RC4 cipher stream, which makes it easier for remote attackers to obtain plaintext messages via an XOR operation on two ciphertexts.

Best of the Web
Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
Join us Wednesday, Dec. 17 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time to hear what employers are really looking for in a chief information security officer -- it may not be what you think.