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How Unbundling and Decentralization Are Reshaping Banking and Financial Services
Android banking trojan actors have taken this stratagem to heart and have been very adaptable over years to new Google Play app store restrictions introduced to limit their operations. These restrictions include setting limitations on the use of certain dangerous app permissions, which play a big role in distributing or automating malware tactics.
In this blog we will discuss the recent techniques used to spread Android banking trojans via Google Play MITRE T resulting in significant financial loss for targeted banks. We will also discuss the, sometimes forgotten, by-product of collecting contacts and keystrokes by Banking trojans, resulting in severe data leakage.
What makes these Google Play distribution campaigns very difficult to detect from an automation sandbox and machine learning perspective is that dropper apps all have a very small malicious footprint. This small footprint is a direct consequence of the permission restrictions enforced by Google Play.
A good example is the modification introduced on November 13th, by Google , which limits the use of the Accessibility Services, which was abused by earlier dropper campaigns to automate and install apps without user consent.
This policing by Google has forced actors to find ways to significantly reduce the footprint of dropper apps. Besides improved malware code efforts, Google Play distribution campaigns are also more refined than previous campaigns. For example, by introducing carefully planned small malicious code updates over a longer period in Google Play, as well as sporting a dropper C2 backend to fully match the theme of the dropper app for example a working Fitness website for a workout focused app. To make themselves even more difficult to detect, the actors behind these dropper apps only manually activate the installation of the banking trojan on an infected device in case they desire more victims in a specific region of the world.
This makes automated detection a much harder strategy to adopt by any organization. In the paragraphs below we outline the Modus Operandi MO of each of the families distributed recently via Google Play. Each of these families has its own banking apps target list, which can be found in the Appendix.
During the research dedicated to the distribution techniques of different malware families, our analysts found numerous droppers located in Google Play, designed to distribute specifically the banking trojan Anatsa. Anatsa was discovered by ThreatFabric in January Previously ThreatFabric reported cases when Anatsa was distributed side-by-side with Cabassous in smishing campaigns all over Europe.
Our latest findings show that Anatsa now utilizes Google Play dropper apps. We discovered the first dropper in June masquerading as an app for scanning documents.
One dropper app was installed more than The process of infection with Anatsa looks like this: upon the start of installation from Google Play, the user is forced to update the app in order to continue using the app. In this moment, Anatsa payload is downloaded from the C2 server s , and installed on the device of the unsuspecting victim. Actors behind it took care of making their apps look legitimate and useful.
There are large numbers of positive reviews for the apps. The number of installations and presence of reviews may convince Android users to install the app.
Moreover, these apps indeed possess the claimed functionality, after installation they do operate normally and further convince victim in their legitimacy. Despite the overwhelming number of installations, not every device that has these droppers installed will receive Anatsa, as the actors made efforts to target only regions of their interest.
We will cover this and other technical details in the next section. All Anatsa droppers look similar code-wise. The dropper makes a request towards the C2 sending information about the device, including device ID, device name, locale, country, Android SDK version.
At this point, the C2 backend decides whether to provide the Anatsa payload or not based on the device information. Depending on the C2 response, the dropper will decide whether or not to download Anatsa.
Such approach allows actors to target devices from specific regions and easily switch focus to another area. This behavior is in line with Anatsa moving from region to region, constantly updating its list of targeted financial institutions. Our analysts have identified Anatsa droppers that initially in their first versions published on Google Play had no malicious functionality, but modified their behavior in later versions, adding the dropping functionality, and a wider set of permissions required.
When all conditions are met and the payload is ready, the user will be prompted to download and install it. The user, previously convinced that the update is necessary for the app to work properly, grants the permission. After the installation is complete, Anatsa is running on the device and immediately asks the victim to grant Accessibility Service privileges.
At the same time, the dropper app is also running and operating as a legitimate app, the victim will probably remain unsuspecting. ThreatFabric identified multiple instances of malware dropped by the Brunhilda threat actor group, and in line with previous campaigns, it constituted of trojanized apps.
Brunhilda was observed dropping different malware families. In the first case, we observed Brunhilda posing as a QR code creator app, Brunhilda dropped samples from established families, like Hydra , as well as novel ones, like Ermac. The apps dropped by this Brunhilda campaign do not differ in functioning too much from the previous versions we have observed during As it did in the previous iterations, Brunhilda sends a registration request to its C2 using the gRPC protocol.
Upon successful registration, and after communicating more detailed information about the device, the dropper is instructed by the C2 to download and install the payload package.
Both families have been very active in the last months, even adventuring to markets that were previously untapped, like the United States.
This new wave of malware, which started in August , includes also other families like Gustuff and Anatsa. As mentioned before, ThreatFabric observed Brunhilda serving different malware families.
Some samples were observed having more than Also in this case, as it happened with the deployment of Vultur , these aps reached thousands of downloads before being taken down from the store.
The samples were very successful in their operation, with samples ranging from 5. With these numbers in mind, it is fair to say that this dropper family was likely able to infect hundreds of thousands of victims during its operation.
It had The app website is designed to look legitimate at first glance. The developer website also serves as C2 for Gymdrop. Just like previously observed, this dropper tried to convince victims to install a fake update. However, in this case, it is done in a more inventive way: the payload is posed as a new package of workout exercises in conformity with the app. Shortly after the dropper gets its configuration from the C2.
The configuration file contains the link to download the payload. Moreover, the configuration contains filter rules based on device model. Based on the models being filtered out and the code of the dropper, we can draw a conclusion that this is done to avoid downloading the payload on emulators or research environment. If all conditions are met, the payload will be downloaded and installed.
This dropper also does not request Accessibility Service privileges, it just requests permission to install packages, spiced with the promise to install new workout exercises - to entice the user to grant this permission. When installed, the payload is launched. Our threat intelligence shows that at the moment this dropper is used to distribute Alien banking trojan.
While writing this blog post, Gymdrop was updated a new version was uploaded to Google Play. However, the configuration file was not found on C2. It could probably be done to not serve the payload to pass security checks performed by Google before publishing the update on Google Play. It is worth mentioning that the Alien samples of this campaign connect to the same C2 as samples from previously described campaign powered by Brunhilda dropper.
This leads us to the conclusion that the actor s behind these Alien campaigns use at least 2 different dropper services in their distribution strategy. In the span of only 4 months, 4 large Android families were spread via Google Play, resulting in A noticeable trend in the new dropper campaigns is that actors are focusing on loaders with a reduced malicious footprint in Google Play, considerably increasing the difficulties in detecting them with automation and machine learning techniques.
The small malicious footprint is a result of the new Google Play restrictions current and planned to put limitations on the use of privacy concerning app permissions. Permissions such as Accessibility Service, which in previous campaigns was one of the core tactics abused to automate the installation process of Android banking trojans via dropper apps in Google Play.
By limiting the use of these permissions, actors were forced to choose the more conventional way of installing apps, which is by asking the installation permission, with the side-effect of blending in more with legitimate apps. To achieve this, criminals use a multitude of techniques, which range from location checks to incremental malicious updates, passing by time-based de-obfuscation and server-side emulation checks. This incredible attention dedicated to evading unwanted attention renders automated malware detection less reliable.
This consideration is confirmed by the very low overall VirusTotal score of the 9 number of droppers we have investigated in this blogpost. ThreatFabric makes it easier than it has ever been to run a secure mobile payments business. With the most advanced threat intelligence for mobile banking, financial institutions can build a risk-based mobile security strategy and use this unique knowledge to detect fraud-by-malware on the mobile devices of customers in real-time.
Together with our customers and partners, we are building an easy-to-access information system to tackle the ever-growing threat of mobile malware targeting the financial sector. We especially like to thank the Cyber Defence Alliance CDA for collaborating and proactively sharing knowledge and information across the financial sector to fight cyber-threats.
If you want to request a free trial of our MTI-feed, or want to test our own MTI portal for 30 days, feel free to contact us at: sales threatfabric.
Families and statistics In the paragraphs below we outline the Modus Operandi MO of each of the families distributed recently via Google Play. Anatsa campaign During the research dedicated to the distribution techniques of different malware families, our analysts found numerous droppers located in Google Play, designed to distribute specifically the banking trojan Anatsa. Thousands of victims We discovered the first dropper in June masquerading as an app for scanning documents. Technical details All Anatsa droppers look similar code-wise.
Hydra and Ermac campaign Brunhilda : The return of the Valkyrie ThreatFabric identified multiple instances of malware dropped by the Brunhilda threat actor group, and in line with previous campaigns, it constituted of trojanized apps. Alien campaign As mentioned before, ThreatFabric observed Brunhilda serving different malware families.
Conclusion In the span of only 4 months, 4 large Android families were spread via Google Play, resulting in How we help our customers ThreatFabric makes it easier than it has ever been to run a secure mobile payments business.
ThreatFabric has partnerships with TIPs all over the world. A Master Scanner Live leaf. A Gym and Fitness Trainer gesture. C QR CreatorScanner com.
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Over these past two weeks I have received a number of requests from non-Russians living here in Russia on how to get involved with cryptocurrencies, and also while having them be able to get cash roubles or other currencies as and when needed. I decided to spend this Saturday scribbling my how-to, which I hope will be clear, and useful. There are as of this writing over cryptocurrencies, altcoins and tokens trading in crypto markets. For practical purposes the markets look at the top 50 as this is where the volume and liquidity are at this time. Bitcoin happened to be the first that started and startled the world with a cryptocurrency. Bitcoin was the first, the priciest, and best recognized name, but in terms of practical applications Dapps it is less deeply or widely useful as Ethereum, or some other more recent, nimbler cryptos such as ChainLink that are coming into their own. Ethereum ushered in the era of practical commercial applications Dapps, Defi coming at us from the several development highways.
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Android banking trojan actors have taken this stratagem to heart and have been very adaptable over years to new Google Play app store restrictions introduced to limit their operations. These restrictions include setting limitations on the use of certain dangerous app permissions, which play a big role in distributing or automating malware tactics. In this blog we will discuss the recent techniques used to spread Android banking trojans via Google Play MITRE T resulting in significant financial loss for targeted banks. We will also discuss the, sometimes forgotten, by-product of collecting contacts and keystrokes by Banking trojans, resulting in severe data leakage. What makes these Google Play distribution campaigns very difficult to detect from an automation sandbox and machine learning perspective is that dropper apps all have a very small malicious footprint.
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