Google Play Store removes over a dozen malicious Android utility apps

(Image credit: Iaremenko Sergii / Shutterstock)

Security researchers have helped kick out 19 apps from the Google Play Store that installed a rare rooting malware to take over the smartphone.

Discovered by cybersecurity investigators at Lookout, the malware dubbed AbstractEmu rooted an infected Android device to conduct several malicious activities such as monitoring notifications, capturing screenshots, recording the screen, and even reset the password of the device, or lock it completely.

“By using the rooting process to gain privileged access to the Android operating system, the threat actor can silently grant themselves dangerous permissions or install additional malware — steps that would normally require user interaction,” observe the researchers.

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The infected apps were disguised as utility apps, such as password managers, data savers, app launchers, and such, and were fully functional. Of the 19 apps that were taken down, the researchers claim that seven exhibited rooting capabilities, and one had clocked more than 10,000 downloads.

Rare, but deadly

The researchers claim that while rooting malware has all but disappeared in the last five years, AbstractEmu is proof that they aren’t dead yet. The researchers are also fascinated by the steps the malware takes to avoid detection by using code abstraction and anti-emulation checks. 

Once on a device, AbstractEmu calls in the help of one of five exploits for older Android security flaws in order to root and take over the device. After gaining control, it collates all kinds of data about the device, and sends it to a remote server, and waits to receive additional payloads. 

“At the time of discovery, the threat actor behind AbstractEmu had already disabled the endpoints necessary to retrieve this additional payload from C2 [command-and-control server], which has prevented us from learning the ultimate aim of the attackers,” the researchers conclude.

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Mayank Sharma

With almost two decades of writing and reporting on Linux, Mayank Sharma would like everyone to think he’s TechRadar Pro’s expert on the topic. Of course, he’s just as interested in other computing topics, particularly cybersecurity, cloud, containers, and coding.