Mobile Malware

Users of mobile devices are under constant threat. There is an onslaught of mobile malware that is continuously released to infect the billions of mobile devices that are out there in the hands of innocent users. So, it is essential to build systems that can detect malware presence, and quarantine their execution before sensitive data (credit card information, photos, etc.) leaks.

To this end, we are interested in building reliable computing platforms, especially reliable mobile platforms. Real-world malware adapts to defenses, evades being run in experimental settings, and hides behind benign applications. To battle these effects we look into foundations for detecting and removing malware. We study malware, understand their characteristics (both in software and hardware) and develop solutions to detect them.

Publications

V. J. Reddi and Y. Zhu, “Research for Practice: Web Security and Mobile Web Computing,” Communications of the ACM (CACM), 2017.Abstract

OUR THIRD INSTALLMENT of Research for Practice brings readings spanning programming languages, compilers, privacy, and the mobile Web. First, Jean Yang provides an overview of how to use information flow techniques to build programs that are secure by construction. As Yang writes, information flow is a conceptually simple “clean idea”: the flow of sensitive information across program variables and control statements can be tracked to determine whether information may in fact leak. Making information flow practical is a major challenge, however. Instead of relying on programmers to track information flow, how can compilers and language runtimes be made to do the heavy lifting? How can application writers easily express their privacy policies and understand the implications of a given policy for the set of values that an application user may see? Yang’s set of papers directly addresses these questions via a clever mix of techniques from compilers, systems, and language design. This focus on theory made practical is an excellent topic for RfP

 

M. Kazdagli, L. Huang, V. J. Reddi, and M. Tiwari, “EMMA: A New Platform to Evaluate Hardware-based Mobile Malware Analyses,” arXiv preprint arXiv:1603.03086, 2016.Abstract

Hardware-based malware detectors (HMDs) are a key emerging technology to build trustworthy computing platforms, especially mobile platforms. Quantifying the efficacy of HMDs against malicious adversaries is thus an important problem. The challenge lies in that real-world malware typically adapts to defenses, evades being run in experimental settings, and hides behind benign applications. Thus, realizing the potential of HMDs as a line of defense – that has a small and battery-efficient code base – requires a rigorous foundation for evaluating HMDs. To this end, we introduce EMMA—a platform to evaluate the efficacy of HMDs for mobile platforms. EMMA deconstructs malware into atomic, orthogonal actions and introduces a systematic way of pitting different HMDs against a diverse subset of malware hidden inside benign applications. EMMA drives both malware and benign programs with real user-inputs to yield an HMD’s effective operating range— i.e., the malware actions a particular HMD is capable of detecting. We show that small atomic actions, such as stealing a Contact or SMS, have surprisingly large hardware footprints, and use this insight to design HMD algorithms that are less intrusive than prior work and yet perform 24.7% better. Finally, EMMA brings up a surprising new result— obfuscation techniques used by malware to evade static analyses makes them more detectable using HMDs.

M. Kazdagli, V. J. Reddi, and M. Tiwari, “Quantifying and Improving the Efficiency of Hardware-Based Mobile Malware Detectors,” in The 49th Annual IEEE/ACM International Symposium on Microarchitecture, 2016, pp. 37. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Hardware-based malware detectors (HMDs) are a key emerging technology to build trustworthy systems, especially mobile platforms. Quantifying the efficacy of HMDs against malicious adversaries is thus an important problem. The challenge lies in that real-world malware adapts to defenses, evades being run in experimental settings, and hides behind benign applications. Thus, realizing the potential of HMDs as a small and battery-efficient line of defense requires a rigorous foundation for evaluating HMDs. We introduce Sherlock—a white-box methodology that quantifies an HMD’s ability to detect malware and identify the reason why. Sherlock first deconstructs malware into atomic, orthogonal actions to synthesize a diverse malware suite. Sherlock then drives both malware and benign programs with real user-inputs, and compares their executions to determine an HMD’s operating range, i.e., the smallest malware actions an HMD can detect. We show three case studies using Sherlock to not only quantify HMDs’ operating ranges but design better detectors. First, using information about concrete malware actions, we build a discretewavelet transform based unsupervised HMD that outperforms prior work based on power transforms by 24.7% (AUC metric). Second, training a supervised HMD using Sherlock’s diverse malware dataset yields 12.5% better HMDs than past approaches that train on ad-hoc subsets of malware. Finally, Sherlock shows why a malware instance is detectable. This yields a surprising new result—obfuscation techniques used by malware to evade static analyses makes them more detectable using HMDs.

M. Kazdagli, L. Huang, V. REDDI, and M. Tiwari, “Morpheus: Benchmarking Computational Diversity in Mobile Malware,” Workshop on Hardware and Architectural Support for Security and Privacy (HASP). ACM, 2014.Abstract

Computational characteristics of a program can potentially be used to identify malicious programs from benign ones. However, systematically evaluating malware detection techniques, especially when malware samples are hard to run correctly and can adapt their computational characteristics, is a hard problem. We introduce Morpheus – a benchmarking tool that includes both real mobile malware and a synthetic malware generator that can be configured to generate a computationally diverse malware sample-set – as a tool to evaluate computational signatures based malware detection. Morpheus also includes a set of computationally diverse benign applications that can be used to repackage malware into, along with a recorded trace of over 1 hour long realistic human usage for each app that can be used to replay both benign and malicious executions.

The current Morpheus prototype targets Android applications and malware samples. Using Morpheus, we quantify the computational diversity in malware behavior and expose opportunities for dynamic analyses that can detect mobile malware. Specifically, the use of obfuscation and encryption to thwart static analyses causes the malicious execution to be more distinctive – a potential opportunity for detection. We also present potential challenges, specifically, minimizing false positives that can arise due to diversity of benign executions.

Categories and Subject Descriptors

D.4.6 [Security and Protection]: Invasive software

Keywords

security, mobile malware, performance counters