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Uncovering automatic Obfuscation-as-a-Service for malicious Android applications

Masarah Paquet-Clouston (GoSecure), Vit Sembera (Trend Micro), Sebastian Garcia (Stratosphere Laboratory) & Maria Jose Erquiaga (Cisco Systems)
With the security community regularly developing mechanisms for malware detection, malware samples are constantly being obfuscated through various techniques. Although these changes are suspected to be automatic, there has been no research investigating how such automation works, how it is offered in the underground community, what obfuscation techniques are favoured, and whether offering automation-as-a-service is profitable.

This research presents a deep dive investigation into an obfuscation-as-a-service platform for Android applications advertised on underground forums. The various obfuscation techniques used by the service are uncovered and the service’s efficiency is evaluated. The potential revenue made by those behind the service is also estimated based on open-source information found on various underground forums.

This research provides the first overview of such automatic service, which takes advantage of the whole malware-as-a-service industry, providing medium quality obfuscation for the Android malware market. Although the technical obfuscations are not state-of-the-art, the service succeeds in reducing detection for malware Android applications. We conclude that the active use of the service highlights the need for the malware market to develop better obfuscation techniques, hence the good job that the security community is doing at quickly detecting changing malware. We also conclude that this service seemed to generate enough revenue for the group, given its automatic nature and purpose. Given that automatic services like this may be a larger problem in the future of malware obfuscation, this research provides a first technical analysis of the details of such obfuscation service and the possible impact in detection results.

Got a question about this presentation? To get in touch with the speakers, contact them on Twitter at @masarahclouston, @MaryJo_E and @eldracote or by email on [email protected] or [email protected].
Masarah Paquet-Clouston

Masarah Paquet-Clouston is a Ph.D. candidate in criminology, a security researcher at GoSecure and a collaborator of the Stratosphere IPS project. She is also part of the outreach committee for the NorthSec organization. With her background in economics, criminology, and now cybersecurity, she specializes in the study of online economic crime. She has presented at various international conferences including Black Hat USA, DefCon, RSA, CERT-EU, Sector, NorthSec and Virus Bulletin.

Vit Sembera
Trend Micro

Vit is a security researcher at Trend Micro. He specializes in automotive cybersecurity and IoT security including IoT botnets. Vit has delivered penetration testing, static code analysis and web application firewalls implementations in the past. During his free time, Vit enjoys playing piano and riding motorbikes.

Sebastian Garcia
Stratosphere Laboratory

Sebastian is a malware researcher and security teacher with extensive experience in machine learning applied on network traffic. He created the Stratosphere IPS project, a machine learning-based, free software IPS to protect civil society. He likes to analyse network patterns and attacks with machine learning. As a researcher in the AIC group of the Czech Technical University in Prague, he believes that free software and machine learning tools can help better protect users from abuse of their digital rights. He has taught in several countries and universities and has worked on penetration testing for both corporations and governments. He has been lucky enough to talk at Ekoparty, DeepSec, Hacktivity, Botconf, Hacklu, InBot, SecuritySessions, ECAI, CitizenLab, ArgenCor, Free Software Foundation Europe, Virus Bulletin, BSides Vienna, HITB Singapore, CACIC, and more. As a co-founder of the MatesLab hackspace he is a free software advocate who has worked on honeypots, malware detection, distributed scanning (dnmap) keystroke dynamics, Bluetooth analysis, privacy protection, intruder detection, robotics, microphone detection with SDR (Salamandra) and biohacking.

Maria Jose Erquiaga
Cisco Systems

Maria Jose Erquiaga is a malware researcher from Argentina. Previously, she worked as a researcher at the Stratosphere laboratory at the CVUT, in Prague, Czech Republic and as a team leader of the Aposemat project, a joint project between the Stratosphere laboratory and Avast. Maria's work has been focused on executing and analysing malware. Maria joined the Cognitive Intelligence team of Cisco Systems as a junior threat researcher in April 2021. Maria has spoken at CACIC, ArgenCon, SIGCOMM, BotConf, WACCO, NotPink, Defcon, BlackHat and Ekoparty.