Q

How to remove malware on Android devices that reinstalls itself

A variant of malware on Android devices removes and reinstalls itself when a device powers on or off. Learn how to completely eradicate the threat.

I read about a new strain of malware that is able to download, install and remove applications on a device, but disappears when the device is powered on. I also read that elements of the malware stay in the device and reinstall when the device is rebooted. How does this malware work and what should my enterprise do to eradicate it? Is there a way to truly get rid of it completely?

It is extremely common for malware, such as the bootkit Trojan Android.Oldboot, to download and install other applications to further the attacker's goals. Typically, the malware is just the initial point of entry into a system; it then uses additional modules, such as ones from an exploit kit, to gain administrative access and then install a rootkit to complete the rest of the attack.

However, the act of removing applications -- or the malware removing itself when a device is powered on -- is much less common. Sometimes, an attack will patch itself or otherwise secure the system so that other attackers can't compromise it. Note, these types of attacks haven't been widely reported on Android systems, but are common to Windows-based malware. This shows that either Android malware is adapting techniques from Windows malware or that Windows malware is starting to target Android. The Android OS is based on Linux and the techniques for attacks on Linux systems are being adapted for Android-based attacks.

Much like on Windows, the Android.Oldboot malware installs itself in the boot partition on the file system so it loads every time the device is restarted. This provides the malware persistence needed on the device to maintain control.

The easiest way to remove malware from a mobile device is to do a full factory reset of the device. Otherwise, you could reinstall known good firmware, but this is likely to be very difficult for end users, and since many enterprises don't support smartphones or Android, users will most likely need to go to a vendor or retailer for support.

Potentially the only sure way to remove the malware from your enterprise would be to buy a new device from a known, trusted vendor or retailer.

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This was first published in July 2014

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