Delayed Software Updates Enable Cybercriminals to Exploit Mobile Apps; Pinkslipbot Trojan Returns with New Capabilities
Intel Security today released its McAfee Labs Threats Report: June 2016, which explains the dynamics of mobile app collusion, where cybercriminals manipulate two or more apps to orchestrate attacks capable of exfiltrating user data, inspecting files, sending fake SMS messages, loading additional apps without user consent, and sending user location information to control servers. McAfee Labs has observed such behavior across more than 5,000 versions of 21 apps designed to provide useful user services such as mobile video streaming, health monitoring, and travel planning. Unfortunately, the failure of users to regularly implement essential software updates to these 21 mobile apps raises the possibility that older versions could be commandeered for malicious activity.
Widely considered a theoretical threat for many years, colluding mobile apps carry out harmful activity together by leveraging interapp communication capabilities common to mobile operating systems. These operating systems incorporate many techniques to isolate apps in sandboxes, restrict their capabilities, and control which permissions they have at a fairly granular level. Unfortunately, mobile platforms also include fully documented ways for apps to communicate with each other across sandbox boundaries. Working together, colluding apps can leverage these interapp communication capabilities for malicious purposes.
McAfee Labs has identified three types of threats that can result from mobile app collusion:
Mobile app collusion requires at least one app with permission to access the restricted information or service, one app without that permission but with access outside the device, and the capability to communicate with each other. Either app could be collaborating on purpose or unintentionally due to accidental data leakage or inclusion of a malicious library or software development kit. Such apps may use a shared space (files readable by all) to exchange information about granted privileges and to determine which one is optimally positioned to serve as an entry point for remote commands.
“Improved detection drives greater efforts at deception,” said Vincent Weafer, vice president of Intel Security’s McAfee Labs group. “It should not come as a surprise that adversaries have responded to mobile security efforts with new threats that attempt to hide in plain sight. Our goal is to make it increasingly harder for malicious apps to gain a foothold on our personal devices, developing smarter tools and techniques to detect colluding mobile apps.”
The McAfee Labs report discusses forward-looking research to create tools, initially used by threat researchers manually but eventually to be automated, to detect colluding mobile apps. Once identified, colluding apps may be blocked using mobile security technology. The report suggests a variety of user approaches to minimize mobile app collusion, including downloading mobile apps only from trusted sources, avoiding apps with embedded advertising, not “jailbreaking” mobile devices, and most importantly, always keeping operating system and app software up-to-date.
For online safety tips on how consumers can protect themselves from the threats mentioned in this report, visit Consumer Safety Tips Blog.
This quarter’s report also documents the return of the W32/Pinkslipbot Trojan (also known as Qakbot, Akbot, QBot). This backdoor Trojan with worm-like abilities initially launched in 2007 and quickly earned a reputation for being a damaging, high-impact malware family capable of stealing banking credentials, email passwords, and digital certificates. The Pinkslipbot malware reemerged in late 2015 with improved features such as anti-analysis and multi-layered encryption abilities to thwart malware researchers’ efforts to dissect and reverse engineer it. The report also provides details about the Trojan’s self-update and data exfiltration mechanism, and McAfee Labs’ effort to monitor Pinkslipbot infections and credential theft in real-time.
Finally, McAfee Labs assesses the state of mainstream hashing functions, and urges organizations to keep their systems up to date with the latest, strongest hashing standards.
Q1 2016 Threat Statistics
For more information on these focus topics, or more threat landscape statistics for Q1 2016, visit http:/www.mcafee.com/June2016ThreatsReport for the full report.
For guidance on how organizations can better protect their enterprises from the threats detailed in this quarter’s report, visit Enterprise Blog.
About McAfee Labs
McAfee Labs is the threat research division of Intel Corporation’s Intel Security Group, and one of the world’s leading sources for threat research, threat intelligence, and cybersecurity thought leadership. The McAfee Labs team of researchers collects threat data from millions of sensors across key threat vectors—file, web, message, and network. It then performs cross-vector threat correlation analysis and delivers real-time threat intelligence to tightly integrated McAfee endpoint, content, and network security products through its cloud-based McAfee Global Threat Intelligence service. McAfee Labs also develops core threat detection technologies—such as application profiling, and graylist management—that are incorporated into the broadest security product portfolio in the industry.
About Intel Security
McAfee Labs is now part of Intel Security. With its Security Connected strategy, innovative approach to hardware-enhanced security and unique McAfee Global Threat Intelligence, Intel Security is intensively focused on developing proactive, proven security solutions and services that protect systems, networks and mobile devices for business and personal use around the world. Intel Security is combining the experience and expertise of McAfee with the innovation and proven performance of Intel to make security an essential ingredient in every architecture and on every computing platform. The mission of Intel Security is to give everyone the confidence to live and work safety and securely in the digital world. www.intelsecurity.com
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