Security Experts:

"PluginPhantom" Android Trojan Uses Plugins to Evade Detection

A recently discovered Android Trojan dubbed “PluginPhantom” abuses a legitimate plugin framework to update itself and evade static detection, Palo Alto Networks reported on Wednesday.

PluginPhantom focuses on data theft and it’s capable of stealing files, contacts, location data and Wi-Fi information. The threat can also take photos, capture screenshots, intercept and send SMS messages, record audio and log keystrokes.

PluginPhantom is believed to be a successor of Android.Trojan.Ihide, a piece of malware analyzed by TrustLock in July. However, unlike other Android Trojans and its predecessor, PluginPhantom is based on a type of design architecture where the malicious application is divided into a main host app and multiple plugins.

To achieve this, it uses DroidPlugin, a plugin framework developed by Chinese security firm Qihoo 360. DroidPlugin enables a host application to run multiple plugins without the need to install them. This has allowed PluginPhantom developers to implement various malicious functions in different plugins, which can be loaded and launched by the host app.

PluginPhantom has nine plugins embedded in the host app as asset files. These include three core plugins, designed for command and control (C&C) server communications and updates, and six plugins focusing on data theft.

In addition to the functionality provided by the plugins, the main app includes keylogging capabilities obtained by abusing Accessibility features.

Palo Alto Networks researchers told SecurityWeek that they have no reason to believe the malware has made it onto Google Play, but they don’t have any information on how the threat has been distributed.

There is also no information on who might be targeted, but the security firm pointed out that the location data collected by the malware is translated to coordinate systems used by Baidu Maps and Amap Maps, navigation apps that are highly popular in China.

By hiding the malicious functionality in plugins, the Android Trojan increases its chances of evading static detection mechanisms. PluginPhantom appears to be the first Android Trojan to leverage this method, but experts believe other malware developers may start using it and it’s possible that it will end up replacing the widely used repackaging techniques.

“Since the plugin development pattern is generic and the plugin SDK can be easily embedded, the plugin architecture could be a trend among Android malware in the future,” Palo Alto Networks researchers said.

In related news, researchers from Check Point Software Technologies shared details on Wednesday of new Android malware that has compromised more than a million Google Accounts. Dubbed Gooligan by the security firm, the malware targets devices running Android 4 and 5 and can steal authentication tokens stored on devices which can be used to access sensitive data from Gmail, Google Photos, Google Docs and other services, including G Suite.

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Eduard Kovacs is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.