A team of security researchers have demonstrated how a security flaw in Android 4.0.4 can be exploited by a rootkit.
The research team is lead by North Carolina State University professor Xuxian Jiang, who succeeded in developing a proof-of-concept rootkit that attacks the Android framework as opposed to the underlying operating system kernel. The researchers contend that such a rootkit could potentially be downloaded with an infected app and be used to manipulate the smartphone.
"We’ve developed an Android rootkit that unlike other rootkits for the platform can function without a restart and without deep modification of the underlying firmware," the presenter noted in a YouTube video demonstrating the malware. "But it can still do all the things that a rootkit wants to do, such as hide apps or redirect apps to the attacker’s functionality."
In the video, the demonstrator was able to hide applications on the device, as well as get them to launch when icons for other applications are clicked. If downloaded with an infected application, the rootkit could for example hide the smartphone’s browser and replace it with a browser that looks exactly the same but actually steals all of the user’s information.
In response to comments to a press release announcing the finding, Jiang referred to it as an user interface readdressing attack that is performed by hijacking the launcher.
“This would be a more sophisticated type of attack than we’ve seen before,” Jiang said in a statement. “The rootkit was not that difficult to develop, and no existing mobile security software is able to detect it.”
“But there is good news,” he continued. “Now that we’ve identified the problem, we can begin working on ways to protect against attacks like these.”