Unveiling the World of Mobile Malware and Threat Research: Tools, Tactics, and Procedures

Unveiling the World of Mobile Malware and Threat Research: Tools, Tactics, and Procedures

This article was originally published in the United States Cybersecurity Magazine.

As mobile devices become an integral part of our daily lives, the importance of understanding and combating mobile malware and threats becomes increasingly critical. Mobile malware poses a significant risk to users, with the potential to compromise sensitive data, invade privacy, and disrupt normal device functionality. 

This article illuminates the power of mobile malware threats and delves into the tools, tactics, and procedures involved in conducting mobile malware and threat research, shedding light on the methodologies used to analyze, detect, and mitigate these evolving dangers.

The Power of Mobile Malware Threats

During 2022, the worldwide number of malware attacks reached 5.5 billion, an increase of two percent compared to the preceding year, according to Statista. And in 2021, according to Kaspersky, 80.69% of attacks on mobile users belonged to malware.

It’s not just the volume of attacks that is concerning — attackers are engineering more sophisticated malware as well. The Xenomorph Android malware, for example, was able to steal credentials for over 400 banks, automating the process of stealing credentials, initiating and finalizing fund transfers, and, most impressively, bypassing multi-factor authentication (MFA). These attacks are real, they are powerful, and they are accelerating.

Individual credentials, initiate a fund transfer, and automatically breeze through multi-factor authentication without any human interaction.

By utilizing the right combination of tools, tactics, and procedures, threat researchers can address ever-looming and ever-evolving mobile malware attacks.

Tools for Mobile Malware and Threat Research

Threat researchers and security teams have a number of tools at their fingertips to assist with mobile malware analysis, including tools for static analysis and dynamic analysis and sandboxes for detonating and monitoring mobile malware apps.

1. Reverse Engineering Tools

Reverse engineering is a crucial technique employed in mobile malware research. Tools like JADX, IDA Pro, and Apktool help researchers decompile and analyze the code of mobile applications to understand their inner workings and identify malicious behavior.

2. Virtualized Device Environments

Virtualized device sandboxing provides an isolated and controlled environment for executing suspicious applications. They allow researchers to observe the behavior of malware in a controlled setting, enabling the detection of malicious activities while minimizing potential harm or risking physical devices.

3. Network Analyzers

Tools such as Burp Suite assist in analyzing network traffic generated by mobile devices. They help researchers identify communication channels used by mobile malware to transmit data, uncover command-and-control servers, and understand the techniques employed in data exfiltration.

Tactics for Mobile Malware and Threat Research

Once threat researchers have the right tools in place, they begin the work of malware analysis, using several tactics to uncover potential vulnerabilities and to identify suspicious app behavior or network traffic that points to malicious behavior.

1. Application Analysis

Researchers dissect mobile applications to identify potential malware indicators, including suspicious permissions, hidden functionalities, and malicious code. By analyzing an app's behavior and interactions with the device and network, researchers can uncover potential threats.

2. Code Review and Static Analysis

Through code review and static analysis, researchers scrutinize the source code of mobile applications for vulnerabilities, backdoors, or obfuscated malicious code. This technique enables the identification of potential security weaknesses and malicious intentions.

3. Dynamic Analysis

Dynamic analysis involves executing mobile applications in controlled environments to observe their runtime behavior. Researchers can monitor network traffic, system calls, API usage, and other activities to detect malicious behavior, such as data exfiltration or unauthorized access attempts.

Procedures for Mobile Malware and Threat Research

Finally, security professionals define procedures based on their findings, documenting the method of potential attack, classifying the malware, and reporting on any vulnerabilities that were discovered.

1. Data Collection

Researchers gather samples of mobile malware from various sources, including app stores, underground markets, and malware repositories. These samples serve as the foundation for analysis and research.

2. Sample Analysis

Researchers analyze collected samples using a combination of tools and techniques. They observe and document the behavior, permissions, network interactions, and code structure of the samples, aiming to understand their capabilities and potential impact.

3. Malware Classification

Through analysis, researchers categorize mobile malware into different types, such as ransomware, spyware, adware, or trojans. Classification helps in understanding the characteristics, motivations, and potential risks associated with different malware families.

4. Vulnerability Research

Mobile malware research often involves identifying vulnerabilities in mobile operating systems, frameworks, or popular applications. By discovering and reporting these vulnerabilities, researchers contribute to improving overall mobile security.

Leverage the Right Tools, Tactics, and Procedures for Mobile Malware

Mobile malware and threats pose significant risks to users' privacy and security. Conducting effective mobile malware and threat research requires a combination of specialized tools, tactics, and procedures. By leveraging the right tools for analysis, employing a variety of tactics, and following robust research procedures, researchers can stay ahead of emerging mobile threats, enhance user protection, and contribute to the development of robust mobile security solutions.