Security Experts:

Google Play Checks Bypassed by Hacking Team Android Backdoor

An Android backdoor developed by the Italian surveillance software maker Hacking Team is capable of bypassing the Google Play screening process. The threat is designed to allow the company’s customers to install spyware on smartphones, Trend Micro reports.

Researchers continue to analyze the 400GB of data leaked as a result of a breach suffered by Hacking Team. So far, experts have identified several of the resources offered by the company to its customers, including zero-day exploits, an UEFI rootkit, and tools designed to facilitate attacks against non-jailbroken iOS devices.

One of the tools developed by Hacking Team for targeting Android devices was disguised as a news application called BeNews and uploaded to Google Play. The name BeNews, which belongs to a defunct news website, was likely used to make the app look more legitimate.

Google removed the application from the Play store shortly after the Hacking Team breach came to light, but the app had already been downloaded 50 times.

The backdoor, which Trend Micro detects as ANDROIDOS_HTBENEWS.A, made it past the Google Play filtering process because it doesn’t contain any exploit code and it requests only three permissions during installation.

However, once victims start using the fake news app, the malware uses a technique called dynamic loading to download and execute additional code from a server. The backdoor works on Android versions 2.2 through 4.4.4 and it exploits a local privilege escalation vulnerability (CVE-2014-3153) in Google’s mobile operating system to achieve its goal.

Trend Micro has pointed out that the same vulnerability was exploited by TowelRoot, a piece of Android malware capable of breaking the device’s protection mechanisms, and opening the door for other malware that can be leveraged to gain remote access.

Based on an analysis of source code and documents containing instructions on how to use the backdoor, experts believe Hacking Team has been providing the app to customers as a lure for getting the company’s Android spyware on a target’s device.

Hacking Team initially said the leaked information allows anyone to deploy the company’s software, including terrorists and extortionists. However, the firm later noted that the exposed systems are now obsolete because the leaked information makes them easy to detect.

The spyware maker has pointed out that important elements of source code have not been accessed by the attacker, and now the company is preparing to launch a completely new version of Remote Control System, its flagship surveillance product.

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at 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.