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Florida Poly researcher targets new kind of cyber attacks on Android

Florida Polytechnic University assistant professor Karim Elish is researching malware collusion in Android devices to identify how innocuous apps become malicious when paired with others on a device.

LAKELAND, Fla., Oct. 3, 2019 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ -- The malicious Android apps of the future will truly be wolves in sheep's clothing, according to Florida Polytechnic University researcher Karim Elish. He said the inevitable practice of malware collusion will see an app operating as advertised and harming nothing until a companion app is installed. The two will then work in tandem to hijack an Android device, steal data, or incur charges to the user.

Elish, an assistant professor of Computer Science, is working on a solution to stay a step ahead of cyber criminals and this emerging malware collusion.

"Most of the cybersecurity community is talking about this problem, which means it's going to happen sooner or later," he said. "We are trying to propose a defensive technique before it happens."

The research titled "Identifying Mobile Inter-App Communication Risks" was recently published in the prestigious journal IEEE Transactions on Mobile Computing.

"The technique we developed is based on static analysis," he said. "We analyze the source code or the byte code of the apps and try to extract some kind of features that distinguish the malware collusion from the regular benign apps."

When done successfully, users should be able to identify whether the fun new game they're downloading is actually part of a malicious pair of apps working together to harm the user.
The experimental evaluation outlined in the published paper was based on real apps in the Google Play online marketplace, but was tested on a proof of concept.

With 2.7 million apps in the Google Play store, which provides access to Android devices, Elish is certain cybersecurity researchers must work harder than ever to stay ahead of those preying upon Android users.

"When we build a solution to protect the system and the user, we have accomplished something extremely important and useful for the entire community," he said.

Co-authors on the research paper are Haipeng Cal, a faculty member at Washington State University; Daniel Barton, a software engineer at Lockheed Martin; Danfeng Yao, a faculty member at Virginia Tech; and Barbara Ryder; a faculty member at Virginia Tech.

About Florida Polytechnic University:
Florida Polytechnic University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and is a member of the State University System of Florida. It is the only state university dedicated exclusively to STEM and offers ABET accredited degrees. Florida Poly is a powerful economic engine within the state of Florida, blending applied research with industry partnerships to give students an academically rigorous education with real-world relevance. Connect with Florida Poly online at http://www.floridapoly.edu.