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    Author Archive - Oliva Hou (Senior Product Manager)

    Back when malware were so not rampant, anti-malware software heavily relied on virus signature updates to catch malicious programs. It worked pretty well at that time, and false alarm problems were very rare unless an operational error causes faulty virus signatures to be released publicly.

    In recent years, with the thriving underground economy, we’ve seen malware growing at an exponential rate and its capabilities becoming more complex. This might be because the cybercrime business funds the development of sophisticated malware. Advanced techniques in evasion and covert operations are also characteristics of today’s malware, making it more difficult to detect and trace.

    Faced with these conditions, most anti-malware software vendors continuously innovate to introduce new approaches in detecting more malware, especially malware that have not been spreading yet. Most of the approaches are based on heuristics detection, wherein the anti-malware software analyzes the behavior to determine whether it’s a virus or not. However, the said approach is a double-edged sword: while it helps increase detection rate, it is also prone to lead to false alarms.

    False alarms can really hurt you

    A false alarm, also termed false positive, occurs when a legitimate or clean file is wrongly identified as a malicious or infected file by an anti-malware program.

    In some cases, false alarms can just be mere annoying if it causes warning messages popping on users’ screens. In other cases, however, false alarms can be very destructive — especially when the file is a system file and got deleted because of the false detection (some examples can be found here and here). If this happens in a corporate environment, the impact to the business is costly — productivity suffers while the detection problem is investigated, fixed, restored, recovered.

    How accurate is your AV product?

    In an ideal world, a perfect anti-malware product detects all malware and does not have false alarms. Unfortunately, in the real world, that’s not the case.

    False alarms are actually a common problem for anti-malware products. Realistically, the best protection a good anti-malware product could have is detecting as many malware as possible while keeping false alarms as close to zero as possible. To achieve this, something needs to be done to prevent false alarms.

    Most anti-malware products only passively provide an exception list where users can add already falsely detected programs to so those program files won’t be scanned again. Users can also submit these files to security vendors for further analysis. However, none of these methods are good enough to prevent false alarms from happening.

    Beyond blacklisting

    It is Trend Micro’s priority to provide customers more accurate protection. To achieve this, Trend Micro invests in whitelisting technologies and continuously evolves to boost our protection technologies when most anti-virus vendors still only focus on traditional blacklisting protection.

    As an example, Trend Micro has GRID (Goodware Repository and Information Database). GRID is an extensive repository for all known good software files. These files are collected via partner programs and via automated collection tools. As an expansion of Trend Micro Smart Protection Network, Trend Micro has used GRID since 2009.

    All files are carefully processed and analyzed, ensuring the files’ integrity before being checked into the GRID database. The GRID database also houses software file copies, all file metadata, and contextual file information such as how the file was packaged, origin, and other file associations.

    Trend Micro protects you with quality detection

    With the GRID whitelisting technology, Trend Micro has rich information of not only the bad (malware) files, but the good files as well. This information is used to check all files against the database, ensuring the quality of detection that Trend Micro products provide.

    In addition, Trend Micro products are also capable of in-the-cloud whitelist-checking for files during product scans. If the file is found in GRID, it means the file is safe so the product can stop scanning that particular file and move on to the next file. This happens seamlessly, without the need for the user’s intervention.

    With today’s threat landscape, malware knowledge is no longer enough. The ability to accurately distinguish between the good and the bad plays a significant role in providing superior protection customers. Our innovative whitelisting technology provides this quality protection and is available in most of Trend Micro products for consumers, small/medium businesses, and enterprises.

    Coming Soon: The TrendLabs Security Intelligence Blog will be the new Malware Blog

    Posted in Malware | Comments Off on Catch All the Bad Guys, Not the Good Guys

    1:00 am (UTC-7)   |    by

    The number of Android malware in the wild has been growing explosively since late 2011. To keep malicious apps off the official Android app store (now known as Google Play), Google introduced a security service with they codenamed Bouncer in February of this year.

    Bouncer quietly and automatically scans apps (both new and previously uploaded ones) and developer accounts in Google Play with its reputation engine and cloud infrastructure. According to Google, Bouncer was responsible for a  40% drop in the number of malicious apps in its app store.

    Researchers found Bouncer can be fingerprinted

    Recently, two security researchers reported that Bouncer can be fingerprinted. To prove their point, they submitted an Android app which had shell code included that allowed them to poke around Bouncer while the submitted app was being analyzed. This code also connected back – in effect, phoned home – to the researchers. The researchers were able to get some details of Bouncer runtime environment. Some interesting findings about Google Bouncer were revealed, for example:

    • The type of simulator the Bouncer uses is QUME (software that can emulate hardware platforms).
    • All virtualized phone instances in the Bouncer are associated with the same account and have exactly one contact and two photos on the simulated device.
    • Bouncer only checks a submitted app for five minutes.
    • Bouncer only does dynamic analysis. This means only applications misbehave when running in the Bouncer will get caught.
    • Google’s IP range assigned to Bouncer can be revealed as the analyzed apps are allowed to access Internet while being tested.
    What kinds of threats are hitting Android users?

    Now that we know that Bouncer can be easily fingerprinted, it’s not difficult to picture that malicious Android apps can actually take advantage of it and disguise themselves as legitimate apps when running in Bouncer to bypass Google’s security check and make their way to Google Play and eventually to user devices.  The following are some possible attack scenarios:

    • Delayed attack: The application can include malicious payloads in the submitted app but behave benign when it is running in Bouncer. Once it gets onto a user’s device, then starts to run malicious code.
    • Update attack: No malicious code needs to be included in the initial installer. In this case, the app can have an even better chance to evade Bouncer’s detection. Once the application passes Bouncer’s check and gets installed on a real user’s device, then the application can either download additional malicious code to run or connect to its remote control and command (C&C) server to upload stolen data or receive further commands. Just this month, another two fake apps successfully avoid Bouncer using this technique and snuck into Google Play, staying there for two weeks. (We detect these apps as ANDROIDOS_TROJDOWNLOADER.A and ANDROIDOS_TROJSMS.A.)

    A second group of researchers are planning to present another technique at the BlackHat conference later this month. No details of their research is available at this point.

    Only you can protect yourself

    Google has reportedly changed some characteristics of  Bouncer after the researchers contacted them. However, today’s malware evolves quickly and malware developers can always find new ways to get around the security check.

    What we can learn here is that Bouncer does stop many malicious Android apps from getting into Google Play, however it can be evaded. Even though Google has the ability to remotely remove installed apps from user’s device, it would be still be best if the malware can be stopped before it reaches the user’s device.

    Android users are always suggested to be mindful of potential security risks when downloading and installing apps, regardless of the download source. It’s always a good idea to have an effective mobile security product like Trend Micro Mobile Security for Android installed on your device for additional protection. Trend Micro Mobile Security for Android is powered by Trend Micro’s cloud-based Mobile App Reputation technology which provides better and faster protection to users. Trend Micro Mobile Security for Android does not only scan for malicious app already installed on the device; it can also also stop malicious apps from being installed.

    To know more about how to better protect yourself from Android-OS specific threats, you may refer to our digital life e-guides below:


    Posted in Mobile | Comments Off on A Look at Google Bouncer


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