Enhancing Security of Linux-based Android Devices


Our daily lives become more and more dependent upon smartphones due to their increased capabilities. Smartphones are used in various ways from payment systems to assisting the lives of elderly or disabled people. Security threats for these devices become increasingly dangerous since there is still a lack of proper security tools for protection. Android emerges as an open smartphone platform which allows modification even on operating system level. Therefore, third-party developers have the opportunity to develop kernel-based low-level security tools which is not normal for smartphone platforms. Android quickly gained its popularity among smartphone developers and even beyond since it bases on Java on top of "open" Linux in comparison to former proprietary platforms which have very restrictive SDKs and corresponding APIs. Symbian OS for example, holding the greatest market share among all smartphone OSs, was closing critical APIs to common developers and introduced application certification. This was done since this OS was the main target for smartphone malwares in the past. In fact, more than 290 malwares designed for Symbian OS appeared from July 2004 to July 2008. Android, in turn, promises to be completely open source. Together with the Linux-based smartphone OS OpenMoko, open smartphone platforms may attract malware writers for creating malicious applications endangering the critical smartphone applications and owners’ privacy. In this work, we present our current results in analyzing the security of Android smartphones with a focus on its Linux side. Our results are not limited to Android, they are also applicable to Linux-based smartphones such as OpenMoko Neo FreeRunner. Our contribution in this work is three-fold. First, we analyze android framework and the Linux-kernel to check security functionalities. We survey wellaccepted security mechanisms and tools which can increase device security. We provide descriptions on how to adopt these security tools on Android kernel, and provide their overhead analysis in terms of resource usage. As open smartphones are released and may increase their market share similar to Symbian, they may attract attention of malware writers. Therefore, our second contribution focuses on malware detection techniques at the kernel level. We test applicability of existing signature and intrusion detection methods in Android environment. We focus on monitoring events on the kernel; that is, identifying critical kernel, log file, file system and network activity events, and devising efficient mechanisms to monitor them in a resource limited environment. Our third contribution involves initial results of our malware detection mechanism basing on static function call analysis. We identified approximately 105 Executable and Linking Format (ELF) executables installed to the Linux side of Android. We perform a statistical analysis on the function calls used by these applications. The results of the analysis can be compared to newly installed applications for detecting significant differences. Additionally, certain function calls indicate malicious activity. Therefore, we present a simple decision tree for deciding the suspiciousness of the corresponding application. Our results present a first step towards detecting malicious applications on Android-based devices.

author = {Aubrey-Derrick Schmidt and Hans-Gunther Schmidt and Jan Clausen and Kamer Ali Yüksel and Osman Kiraz and Ahmet Camtepe and Sahin Albayrak},
title = {Enhancing Security of Linux-based Android Devices},
booktitle = {in Proceedings of 15th International Linux Kongress},
year = {2008},
month = {~#oct#},
location = {Hamburg, Germany},
publisher = {Lehmann},
Aubrey-Derrick Schmidt, Hans-Gunther Schmidt, Jan Hendrik Clausen, Kamer Ali Yüksel, Osman Kiraz, Seyit Ahmet Camtepe, Sahin Albayrak
15th International Linux Kongress, 2008, Hamburg, Germany