Researchers at Lookout Threat Labs have discovered a new Android malware called AbstractEmu, which “roots” infected devices, which has become a rather rare practice for such malware in recent years.
“This is an important find as rooted malware has become rare over the past five years. By using “rooting” to gain privileged access to the operating system, an attacker can discreetly grant himself dangerous permissions or install additional malware, although such steps usually require user interaction, ”the experts say.
AbstractEmu came bundled with 19 apps distributed through Google Play and third-party app stores (including Amazon Appstore, Samsung Galaxy Store, Aptoide, and APKPure). The infected applications were password managers and various system tools, including tools for saving data and launching applications. At the same time, in order to avoid suspicion, they all really worked and had the declared functionality.
The malicious apps have now been removed from the Google Play Store, but other app stores are probably still distributing them. Researchers say that only one of the infected applications, Lite Launcher, had over 10,000 downloads when it was removed from Google Play.
“AbstractEmu does not have complex functionality and does not use the ‘clickless’ remote exploits that are found in sophisticated APT attacks. [Malware] is simply activated by the user who opened the application, the researchers write. “Since the malware is disguised as running applications, most users are likely to interact with it shortly after downloading.”
After installation AbstractEmu starts collecting and sending various system information to its command and control server and waits for further commands.
After that, AbstractEmu operators can give different commands to the malware, for example, get root privileges, collect and steal files depending on how new they are or match a given pattern, and install new applications.
AbstractEmu has exploits for several known vulnerabilities in its arsenal to gain root privileges on infected devices. An expert report notes that one of the bugs, CVE-2020-0041, has never been used by Android apps before.
The malware is also used in attacks publicly available exploits for the problems CVE-2019-2215 and CVE-2020-0041, and the CVE-2020-0069 vulnerability found in MediaTek chips, widely used by dozens of smartphone manufacturers and installed on millions of devices.
After rooting the device, AbstractEmu can track notifications, take screenshots and record video of the screen, or even block the device or even reset its password.
The researchers say that they have not yet been able to determine what kind of malicious activity the malware will perform after installation, but judging by the permissions received, it can be assumed that AbstractEmu has similarities with banking Trojans and spyware (such as Anatsa, Vultur and Mandrake).
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