Alerts E-Threats

Sophisticated CAPTCHA-Bypassing Malware Found in Google Play, According to Bitdefender Researchers

robot-captcha-arm-800

A sophisticated CAPTCHA-bypassing Android malware has been found harbored in Google Play apps seeking to covertly subscribe thousands of users to premium-rate services.

Identified by Bitdefender as Android.Trojan.MKero.A, the malware was first spotted in late 2014, but was only distributed via third-party marketplaces or local popular social networks in Eastern Europe. One of the most affected countries was Russia.

At the time, Bitdefender was conducting its own research into the malware’s behavior and found that recent versions had stopped using the highly advanced packer – that eased its detection but still uses obfuscated strings.

Current Capabilities

This is the malware’s first occurrence in the official Google Play store, suggesting its developers found new ways of packing it into seemingly legitimate apps that can bypass Google Bouncer – the Google’s vetting system.

The Trojan’s sophistication lies in its ability to bypass CAPTCHA authentication systems by redirecting these requests to an online image-to-text recognition service, Antigate.com. Because the online service relies on actual individuals to recognize CAPTPCHA images, requests are sent back to the malware within seconds so that it can proceed with the covert subscription process.

Sophisticated CAPCHA-Bypassing Malware Found in Google Play, According to Bitdefender Researchers

Fig.1 Antigate workers distribution by countries. Source: Antigate.com

The Trojan relies on a Command and Control (C&C) infrastructure to receive configuration settings about desired subscription services and relay received SMS messages. The subscription procedure involves the following steps:

  • Loading a target website received from the C&C server;
  • Extracting CAPTCHA image and sending it for image-to-text recognition;
  • Loading the CATPCHA code on the targeted website;
  • Parsing SMS code for code or activation link;
  • Loading activation link;
  • Sending confirmation SMS;
  • Loading website with SMS code.

Sophisticated CAPCHA-Bypassing Malware Found in Google Play, According to Bitdefender Researchers

Fig. 2 General subscription procedure.

To further complicate analysis of the malware, its developers used obfuscation tools to hide classes, functions and C&C servers from where it receives commands and instructions.

After analyzing a list of seven malware-harboring Google Play applications, a list of 29 randomly generated C&C servers names were pulled from a single sample that did not have encrypted strings. If any one of these locations becomes unresponsive due to a takedown or any other reason the malware on any infected device will automatically try to connect to the next C&C server in the preconfigured list and wait for instructions.

Sophisticated CAPCHA-Bypassing Malware Found in Google Play, According to Bitdefender Researchers

Fig.3 C&C server list to which the malware connects to.

Among Google Play apps that disseminate the Trojan, two have between 100,000 and 500,000 installs each, raising the potential victim count to staggering numbers.

For each of the applications found in Google Play, we also analyzed previous versions to discern if they had just been recently weaponized or had been hiding in plain sight for a while. Our findings confirmed that several go back at least five iterations, meaning they have been in the official Google Play marketplace for a long time – exhibiting malicious behavior – and have been constantly updated.

At least one developer, by the name of Like Gaming, has been found publishing more than one of these malicious apps. However, he has stopped using the Trojan in certain versions of his application.

Here’s the list of the malicious apps that at the time of writing have been found in Google Play, along with the MD5 for each version known to have harbored the same malicious behavior:

  1. irontubegames.tower3d

Version: 8 1.0.8 – MD5: c8455e21d9768d5976fdfe867605a8de

  1. likegaming.rd

Version: 3 1.3 – MD5: e3b1ecb491ecf424358ead583b21d8f6

Version: 5 1.5 392d9472352a1af31acde7cbb26c854e

  1. likegaming.gtascs

Version:  1 1.0 – MD5: 14cdf116704af262174eb0678fd1b368

  1. likegaming.rcdtwo

Version: 4 1.3 – MD5: 869624aeef3a9c848ed4e657dc852fff

Version: 7 1.6 – MD5: 39b84a45e82d547dc967d282d7a7cd1e

Version: 5 1.4 – MD5: 3692d7b6e121d36106f808622cdd52e7

  1. likegaming.rcd

Version: 10 1.8 – MD5: 0460d0a51dcf3e4b16c2303d5c36e0ee

Version:  6 1.4 – MD5: 569c4a7a0309477c7b17fb549b4a956a

Version:  7 1.5 – MD5: f6c0409fffa4a8f5ca6b4f444bae297c

Version:  8 1.6 – MD5: df32f9d5ff0572a8f40d8d9edadb1968

Version:  9 1.7 – MD5: 61f0c2e4eaa49dd49c43f2caef83b1bf

  1. likegaming.ror

Version:  9 1.6.0.3 – MD5: 7238fc5f14bdee958c7b41b13d6f3ca8

Version: 10 1.6.0.4 – MD5: 69820ddcab4fe0c6ff6a77865abf30b9

  1. uberspot.a2048mk

Version: 19 1.96 – MD5: 72ba0eef80e7abe28ff8ab40ffb301d2

Implications

Considering the malware has been built with convert capabilities to operate completely silent on the victim’s Android device, user detection and removal is extremely difficult. To this end, a mobile security solution needs to be installed on the device to identify malicious applications – regardless from where they have been downloaded – and block threats from causing irreparable financial harm or personal data loss.

At the time of writing, Google has been notified of the existence of these malicious apps in Google Play.

Note: This article is based on technical information provided courtesy of Alin Barbatei, Bitdefender Researcher.

About the author

Liviu ARSENE

Liviu Arsene is the proud owner of the secret to the fountain of never-ending energy. That's what's been helping him work his everything off as a passionate tech news editor for the past couple of years. He is the youngest and most restless member of the Bitdefender writer team and he covers mobile malware and security topics with fervor and a twist. His passions revolve around gadgets and technology, and he's always ready to write about what's hot and trendy out there in geek universe.

1 Comment

Click here to post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *