Reference : Boosting Static Security Analysis of Android Apps through Code Instrumentation
Dissertations and theses : Doctoral thesis
Engineering, computing & technology : Computer science
Boosting Static Security Analysis of Android Apps through Code Instrumentation
Li, Li mailto [University of Luxembourg > Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SNT) > >]
University of Luxembourg, ​​Luxembourg
Docteur en Informatique
Le Traon, Yves mailto
Klein, Jacques mailto
Briand, Lionel mailto
Bissyande, Tegawendé François D Assise mailto
Zhang, Xiangyu mailto
Backes, Michael mailto
[en] Within a few years, Android has been established as a leading platform in the mobile market with over one billion monthly active Android users. To serve these users, the official market, Google Play, hosts around 2 million apps which have penetrated into a variety of user activities and have played an essential role in their daily life. However, this penetration has also opened doors for malicious apps, presenting big threats that can lead to severe damages.
To alleviate the security threats posed by Android apps, the literature has proposed a large body of works which propose static and dynamic approaches for identifying and managing security issues in the mobile ecosystem. Static analysis in particular, which does not require to actually execute code of Android apps, has been used extensively for market-scale analysis. In order to have a better understanding on how static analysis is applied, we conduct a systematic literature review (SLR) of related researches for Android. We studied influential research papers published in the last five years (from 2011 to 2015). Our in-depth examination on those papers reveals, among other findings, that static analysis is largely performed to uncover security and privacy issues.
The SLR also highlights that no single work has been proposed to tackle all the challenges for static analysis of Android apps. Existing approaches indeed fail to yield sound results in various analysis cases, given the different specificities of Android programming. Our objective is thus to reduce the analysis complexity of Android apps in a way that existing approaches can also succeed on their failed cases. To this end, we propose to instrument the app code for transforming a given hard problem to an easily-resolvable one (e.g., reducing an inter-app analysis problem to an intra-app analysis problem). As a result, our code instrumentation boosts existing static analyzers in a non-invasive manner (i.e., no need to modify those analyzers).
In this dissertation, we apply code instrumentation to solve three well-known challenges of static analysis of Android apps, allowing existing static security analyses to 1) be inter-component communication (ICC) aware; 2) be reflection aware; and 3) cut out common libraries.
ICC is a challenge for static analysis. Indeed, the ICC mechanism is driven at the framework level rather than the app level, leaving it invisible to app-targeted static analyzers. As a consequence, static analyzers can only build an incomplete control-flow graph (CFG) which prevents a sound analysis. To support ICC-aware analysis, we devise an approach called IccTA, which instruments app code by adding glue code that directly connects components using traditional Java class access mechanism (e.g., explicit new instantiation of target components).
Reflection is a challenge for static analysis as well because it also confuses the analysis context. To support reflection-aware analysis, we provide DroidRA, a tool-based approach, which instruments Android apps to explicitly replace reflective calls with their corresponding traditional Java calls. The mapping from reflective calls to traditional Java calls is inferred through a solver, where the resolution of reflective calls is reduced to a composite constant propagation problem.
Libraries are pervasively used in Android apps. On the one hand, their presence increases time/memory consumption of static analysis. On the other hand, they may lead to false positives and false negatives for static approaches (e.g., clone detection and machine learning-based malware detection). To mitigate this, we propose to instrument Android apps to cut out a set of automatically identified common libraries from the app code, so as to improve static analyzer’s performance in terms of time/memory as well as accuracy.
To sum up, in this dissertation, we leverage code instrumentation to boost existing static analyzers, allowing them to yield more sound results and to perform quicker analyses. Thanks to the afore- mentioned approaches, we are now able to automatically identify malicious apps. However, it is still unknown how malicious payloads are introduced into those malicious apps. As a perspective for our future research, we conduct a thorough dissection on piggybacked apps (whose malicious payloads are easily identifiable) in the end of this dissertation, in an attempt to understand how malicious apps are actually built.
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