Security researchers from Promon, a Norwegian firm specialized in in-app security protections, said they identified a bug in the Android operating system that lets malicious apps hijack legitimate app, and perform malicious operations on their behalf.
In a comprehensive report published today, the research team said the vulnerability can be used to trick users into granting intrusive permissions to malicious apps when they tap and interact with legitimate ones.
The vulnerability — which Promon named StrandHogg — can also be used to show fake login (phishing) pages when taping on a legitimate application.
Currently exploited in the wild
Promon said this security flaw has already been exploited in the wild by malware gangs.
The company said it “identified the StrandHogg vulnerability after it was informed by an Eastern European security company for the financial sector (to which Promon supplies app security support) that several banks in the Czech Republic had reported money disappearing from customer accounts.”
Promon said its Eastern European partner provided a sample for its researchers to analyze; sample inside which they discovered the StrandHogg security flaw.
Promon said it then partnered with Lookout, a US-based mobile security firm, which confirmed the vulnerability, and discovered 36 apps that were currently exploiting it in the wild.
Promon didn’t list the names of the 36 apps that used the StrandHogg vulnerability, but it did say that none of these apps were available through the official Play Store — directly.
These 36 apps were installed on users’ devices as second-stage payloads, Promon said. Users initially installed other malicious apps from the Play Store, which then downloaded the StrandHogg-infected apps for more intrusive attacks.
How StrandHogg works
The technical details of the StrandHogg vulnerability are easy to grasp, even for non-technical users.
Under the hood, StrandHogg is a bug in the way the Android OS handles switching between tasks (processes) that handle different operations or applications.
More specifically, StrandHogg is a bug in the OS component that handles multitasking — the mechaism that allows the Android operating system to run multiple processes at once and switch between them once an app goes in or out of the users’ view (screen).
A malicious app installed on an Android smartphone can exploit the StrandHogg bug to trigger malicious code when the user starts another app — via a feature called “task reparenting.”
Basically, a user taps on a legitimate app, but executes code from a malicious one. As can be seen from the example images below, tapping a legitimate app’s icon triggers code executed by the malicious app — code which can ask for intrusive permission or show phishing pages.
Because these actions occur after the icon tap, the user will believe the permissions or login screen have been created by the legitimate app, rather than the malicious one, and will be very likely to interact with these elements without having any suspicions raised.
Researchers said this makes StrandHogg attacks nerly impossible to detect by a device’s end user.
Promon also said that a StrandHogg attack doesn’t need root access to run, and works on all Android OS versions, including the latest Android 10 release.
In addition, Promon researchers also tested the top 500 most popular Android apps available on the Google Play Store and found that all apps’ processes can be hijacked to perform malicious action via a StrandHogg attack
The research team said it notified Google of the vulnerability in the Android multitasking component over the summer, but the company has not fixed the issue after more than 90 days.
In 2015, a team of academics from Penn State University published similar research, describing a theoretical attack about a task hijacking attack that could be used for UI spoofing, denial-of-service, or user monitoring.
Promon says the StrandHogg attack greatly expands on the concepts described in the 2015 Penn State white paper [PDF].
The Norwegian company said it named the exploit StrandHogg after the old Norse language word that described the Viking tactic of raiding coastal areas to plunder and hold people for ransom.
The Five Pillars of (Azure) Cloud-based Application Security
This 1-hour webinar from GigaOm brings together experts in Azure cloud application migration and security, featuring GigaOm analyst Jon Collins and special guests from Fortinet, Director of Product Marketing for Public Cloud, Daniel Schrader, and Global Director of Public Cloud Architecture and Engineering, Aidan Walden.
These interesting times have accelerated the drive towards digital transformation, application rationalization, and migration to cloud-based architectures. Enterprise organizations are looking to increase efficiency, but without impacting performance or increasing risk, either from infrastructure resilience or end-user behaviors.
Success requires a combination of best practice and appropriate use of technology, depending on where the organization is on its cloud journey. Elements such as zero-trust access and security-driven networking need to be deployed in parallel with security-first operations, breach prevention and response.
If you are looking to migrate applications to the cloud and want to be sure your approach maximizes delivery whilst minimizing risk, this webinar is for you.
Data Management and Secure Data Storage for the Enterprise
This free 1-hour webinar from GigaOm Research brings together experts in data management and security, featuring GigaOm Analyst Enrico Signoretti and special guest from RackTop Systems, Jonathan Halstuch. The discussion will focus on data storage and how to protect data against cyberattacks.
Most of the recent news coverage and analysis of cyberattacks focus on hackers getting access and control of critical systems. Yet rarely is it mentioned that the most valuable asset for the organizations under attack is the data contained in these systems.
In this webinar, you will learn about the risks and costs of a poor data security management approach, and how to improve your data storage to prevent and mitigate the consequences of a compromised infrastructure.
CISO Podcast: Talking Anti-Phishing Solutions
Simon Gibson earlier this year published the report, “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” which assessed more than a dozen security solutions focused on detecting and mitigating email-borne threats and vulnerabilities. As Gibson noted in his report, email remains a prime vector for attack, reflecting the strategic role it plays in corporate communications.
Earlier this week, Gibson’s report was a featured topic of discussions on David Spark’s popular CISO Security Vendor Relationship Podcast. In it, Spark interviewed a pair of chief information security officers—Mike Johnson, CISO for SalesForce, and James Dolph, CISO for Guidewire Software—to get their take on the role of anti-phishing solutions.
“I want to first give GigaOm some credit here for really pointing out the need to decide what to do with detections,” Johnson said when asked for his thoughts about selecting an anti-phishing tool. “I think a lot of companies charge into a solution for anti-phishing without thinking about what they are going to do when the thing triggers.”
As Johnson noted, the needs and vulnerabilities of a large organization aligned on Microsoft 365 are very different from those of a smaller outfit working with GSuite. A malicious Excel macro-laden file, for example, poses a credible threat to a Microsoft shop and therefore argues for a detonation solution to detect and neutralize malicious payloads before they can spread and morph. On the other hand, a smaller company is more exposed to business email compromise (BEC) attacks, since spending authority is often spread among many employees in these businesses.
Gibson’s radar report describes both in-line and out-of-band solutions, but Johnson said cloud-aligned infrastructures argue against traditional in-line schemes.
“If you put an in-line solution in front of [Microsoft] 365 or in front of GSuite, you are likely decreasing your reliability, because you’ve now introduced this single point of failure. Google and Microsoft have this massive amount of reliability that is built in,” Johnson said.
So how should IT decision makers go about selecting an anti-phishing solution? Dolph answered that question with a series of questions of his own:
“Does it nail the basics? Does it fit with the technologies we have in place? And then secondarily, is it reliable, is it tunable, is it manageable?” he asked. “Because it can add a lot overhead, especially if you have a small team if these tools are really disruptive to the email flow.”
Dolph concluded by noting that it’s important for solutions to provide insight that can help organizations target their protections, as well as support both training and awareness around threats. Finally, he urged organizations to consider how they can measure the effectiveness of solutions.
“I may look at other solutions in the future and how do I compare those solutions to the benchmark of what we have in place?”
Listen to the Podcast: CISO Podcast
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