What you need to know about android rootkits?

Right at this very moment, your phone could be full of viruses and malware or even be part of a mobile botnet carrying out click fraud or large-scale cyberattacks. If this were the case, you probably wouldn’t even know about it.

Android Rootkits
Android Rootkits

More often than not, so-called mobile rootkits make the user believe that everything is perfectly fine. They function practically as a cloak of invisibility under which criminal activities are committed. However, if you know how android rootkits work and the risks, you can better protect yourself against them.

Therefore, we invite you to read below the most important things to know about android rootkits.

What are android rootkits?

Android rootkits are not individual malware but a whole set of malicious applications that nest in mobile phones or computers through holes in the security application, thus granting attackers permanent remote access to them.

An essential feature of rootkits is that they hide other parasites from virus detectors and security applications so that the user is unaware of their existence.

Depending on the level of authorization the rootkit has reached, it can even grant full administration rights (with a rootkit in kernel mode), i.e. full control over the mobile phone or computer, to the hacker.

How do rootkits work?

Although there are very different types of android rootkits, the basis of their operation is always the same. The process of infiltrating the system also always follows the same pattern.

Step 1: System infection

Before rootkit infection, some form of social engineering is usually performed as a preliminary step:

cybercriminals generally exploit the weakest point of security systems, i.e. the human component. By deceiving or manipulating other people, hackers often obtain access data or passwords.

With these, they then log on to your mobile phone and install the rootkit.

However, it is also possible to infect phones with rootkit in other ways, such as by downloads from an infected page, downloading applications from an unsecured source, or clicking on a link or attachment in a phishing email.

Step 2: stealth

Once inside the system, the rootkit hides. To do this, it begins to manipulate the processes by which applications and system functions exchange data. Thus, when a virus scanner is triggered, it only receives false information based on information filtered by the rootkit.

For this reason, even professional antivirus software often fails to identify malicious elements based on their method signatures or behavioral analysis.

Step 3: Creation of a backdoor

The rootkit then builds a so-called backdoor, an alternative entry to the system that the hacker can use with a stolen password or a shell or command interpreter, to control the android phone or computer via remote access. The rootkit then masks all logins and suspicious activity.

This allows the attacker to install other software such as keyloggers, use spyware to spy on keystrokes, steal data or, depending on the degree of authorization, change phone settings. Often rootkit-infected android phones are also connected to so-called mobile botnets, from which phishing or DDoS attacks are carried out.

How to protect against android rootkits?

Since concealment is the specialty of a rootkit, it is usually difficult or almost impossible for android rootkits detection. However, there are steps you can take to be more secure.

Preventing infection

Security measures against rootkits are the same as for other common types of parasites:

  • Use security apps on your mobile phones.
  • Take care of your phone with regular updates.
  • Increase your knowledge about the most common forms of Internet fraud, such as phishing.
  • Use strong passwords.

In addition, there are other more specific tips on android rootkit detection.

Advice for non-specialists: use your mobile phone administrator privilege as little as possible, especially when signing into an app. This admin account has far fewer security mechanisms than the conventional user privilege.

The user privilege account only has limited authorizations, the damage in the case of an android rootkit will be less.

Android rootkits detection?

Most antivirus applications base their search on already known android rootkit signatures or evaluate irregular occurrences such as data deletion to detect malware. The problem is that, unless a rootkit in kernel mode is badly programmed and shows itself with constant black screens, most android rootkits do not give the slightest hint of mobile infection.

Moreover, as rootkits become more and more advanced in their programming, they become more and more difficult to identify. However, there are already technical tools specially designed to combat android rootkits, such as the so-called rootkit scan: this is a function that some security apps already contain, but there are also specific apps for this.

Examples are Sophos Anti Rootkit and Bitdefender’s Rootkit Remover, which are available free of charge.

Removing a rootkit

Unfortunately, there is still no 100 percent safe option for removing a rootkit from a mobile phone. According to several studies, the success rate even in professional scanning applications such as AntiVir, Kapersky or Microsoft leaves much to be desired. Mobile phone experts, therefore, recommends using at least a combination of three of these applications.

Nevertheless, since some rootkits can hide deep in the firmware, you can’t be completely sure even then. Thus, there is often only the option of wiping the data carrier and reinstalling the operating system to get rid of the parasite once and for all.

In short: the threat is present.

Rootkits are a particularly persistent danger and can give criminals full control over your android phone. Knowing the danger is the first step in the right direction. The most important protective measure is, as usual, the prevention of infection, as android rootkits are very difficult to detect and, even more so, to remove. In such cases, the phones can often only be reconfigured.

However, during the Black Hat conference in January 2006, there was talk of rootkits surviving even after reformatting the mobile phone, for example, by manipulating the ACPI (Advanced Configuration and Power Interface), which is responsible for the phones power management or by nesting in the BIOS. So, as long as there is no reliable solution, android rootkits are likely to remain highly complex criminal tools and, therefore, a danger.

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