Visible to the public Call Me Back!: Attacks on System Server and System Apps in Android Through Synchronous Callback

TitleCall Me Back!: Attacks on System Server and System Apps in Android Through Synchronous Callback
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsWang, Kai, Zhang, Yuqing, Liu, Peng
Conference NameProceedings of the 2016 ACM SIGSAC Conference on Computer and Communications Security
Conference LocationNew York, NY, USA
ISBN Number978-1-4503-4139-4
Keywordscomposability, denial of service, Metrics, mobile security, pubcrawl, synchronous callback, taint analysis, vulnerability detection

Android is the most commonly used mobile device operation system. The core of Android, the System Server (SS), is a multi-threaded process that provides most of the system services. Based on a new understanding of the security risks introduced by the callback mechanism in system services, we have discovered a general type of design flaw. A vulnerability detection tool has been designed and implemented based on static taint analysis. We applied the tool on all the 80 system services in the SS of Android 5.1.0. With its help, we have discovered six previously unknown vulnerabilities, which are further confirmed on Android 2.3.7-6.0.1. According to our analysis, about 97.3% of the entire 1.4 billion real-world Android devices are vulnerable. Our proof-of-concept attack proves that the vulnerabilities can enable a malicious app to freeze critical system functionalities or soft-reboot the system immediately. It is a neat type of denial-of-service at-tack. We also proved that the attacks can be conducted at mission critical moments to achieve meaningful goals, such as anti anti-virus, anti process-killer, hindering app updates or system patching. After being informed, Google confirmed our findings promptly. Several suggestions on how to use callbacks safely are also proposed to Google.

Citation Keywang_call_2016