App Repackaging

How App Repackaging Can Be a Security Risk ?

Repackaged apps from reverse engineering pose a significant security risk to the Android smartphone ecosystem. Previous methods were primarily concerned with locating and identifying repackaged applications. Even though current app anti-repackaging services have a significant performance overhead and can only protect applications on a fundamental level, they are an improvement over the status quo.

These methods can't protect Android from cumulative attacks at the same level as Android and still meet the platform's strict performance requirements.

These solutions perform poorly when confronted with a dynamic cumulative attack, which is common in the wild, because they rely on a fix-structure detection engine and then repeatedly execute the same path.

 

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What impact does mobile app repackaging have on you?

 

Several methods have been proposed in academic literature, and a number of anti-virus products are available on the market that are designed to detect malware. A signature repository is required by standard procedure. These methods are ineffective against zero-day threats.

There are numerous methods available solely for locating repackaged software. Because repackaged apps are common in Android malware, the vast majority of these threats can be avoided. If repackaging is prohibited, the original developer or publisher will gain no revenue or reputation.

Let us pretend for a moment that we are the attacker and examine the attack phases from their point of view.

The four stages of an attack are as follows:

  • Reconnaissance

  • Execution

  • Distribution

  • Automation

Reconnaissance

 

To get ready for an attack, a hacker must first look at the target application carefully to find possible entry points.

Because application behavior patterns or user interface "anchors" can be used to locate an area of interest in the code, an attacker must be able to visually inspect an application. Typical "anchors" include a request for the user's license key, a link to a help file, a video, a sound, a change in the background music, and so on; a suggestion, such as "Watch this commercial before continuing," to do so; and a blue checkmark in the user interface to indicate that your message has been read.

Finding "anchors" in both the user interface and the binary of the application will be critical to your success. When this data is used for reverse engineering, the amount of code that an attacker must read and comprehend is greatly reduced. As a result, the amount of time required to carry out the attack is reduced.

 

Execution

An attacker would do reconnaissance to find the part of code that does the logic needed to take advantage of the vulnerability.

In order to achieve the attack goal, the application must be modified during execution. The attacker's device is currently prioritized for functionality, as this will allow the attacker to fully exploit the compromised execution environment.

One option for making the necessary changes is to directly access the target process's memory. This could be done on a device that has been rooted or jailbroken by a malicious party.

Distribution

 

Clearly, modern reverse engineering tools make it easier to examine and modify an application's running behavior. It is still difficult for a non-developer to replicate the attack.

This gives the attacker a new problem: how can they get the word out so that everyone can just download a version of the app that has been hacked?

You could repackage an existing app for iOS or modify it for jailbroken devices. A free developer account is required to sideload the repackaged version.

However, consider the alternative strategy. The repackaging process has the significant advantage of allowing the modified app to be distributed without requiring the user to jailbreak their device.

An adversary could achieve their goal by using a static analysis tool like Ghidra. To quickly write and update application code, such tools would include both a disassembler and an assembler. As determined in the preceding phase, the actor would use a static analysis tool to modify the application's disk-based code in order to replicate the attack logic.

Automation

The final phase of a successful attack is the automated distribution and execution of the attack. Reverse engineers who specialize in illegally modifying mobile applications typically have hundreds of apps under their belt. Because it takes time to repeat all of the attack phases for each new version of the application, this can cause delays in the release of new mods and reduce the size of their portfolio.

At this point, the hacker is probably thinking about which code entities will be used in the next attack so that they can be precisely targeted and executed automatically. The names of individual entities, such as classes or methods, or the unique code signatures of the attacked functions are typically used.

This strategy is based on the idea that method names and code signatures don't change often when a real-world application's source code is being written.

Is there anything you can do to put a stop to their current offensive phase?

During this phase, you must remove all signatures that can be used to identify your application repeatedly. In practice, this means that you have to use tools like DexGuard and iXGuard, which change the code signatures a lot each time an application is run to stop automated application changes.

Bottom Line

In the real world, attacking a mobile application necessitates careful planning and the execution of multiple steps.

Application developers must consider all phases of a man-at-the-end attack when planning an appropriate security response. In the long run, it will pay off to make it harder for potential bad actors to get in and stop attacks early on.

It is not entirely true, however, that only the most well-known and skilled reverse engineers can circumvent an app's security. After the preliminary investigation is done, the attack method is turned into a machine, and the results are shared with a large group of people who don't need technical or security knowledge.

Some of the business risks that could come from such an attack are financial loss, a damaged reputation, not following the rules, and a breach of privacy. Effective security measures must be planned, put in place, and kept an eye on at all times during an attack.

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