Distinguishing between hackers and attackers, this article delves into the realm of Android hacking, focusing on Google‘s widely used mobile operating system. Since its 2008 release, Android has dominated the market due to its open-source nature and diverse applications. However, this very openness attracts both hackers and attackers, making it crucial to understand the dynamics of Android hacking.
The rise of smartphones was meant to give the IT sector a second chance to introduce a safe computing environment. In contrast to insecure servers and PCs, these new gadgets were supposed to be impenetrable to malicious software.
However, phones are still computers, and their users are still humans; and there will always be weak links between computers and people. We consulted several security professionals to shed light on the most typical methods hackers can employ to gain access to the potent computers carried by your customers. This, we hope, will help you to better understand the risks involved.
7 Ways to Hack an Android Phone
1. Social Engineering
If a user allows a hacker to access their device, the hacker has already won. Of course, it’s easier said than done to make it happen, but that’s the end goal of most social engineering attacks.
Unlike desktop or server operating systems, mobile OSes typically run in a sandboxed mode that prevents application code from gaining elevated rights and seizing control of the device. However, the much-touted security model where mobile users must take deliberate action in order for code to access protected portions of the phone’s operating system or storage does have a drawback: it causes an abundance of pop-up messages that many of us learn to tune out. Catalino Vega III, a security analyst at Kuma LLC, explains that “segregating permissions” is a feature of mobile apps that prevents “rogue apps” from having free reign over the user’s data.
“The ‘Do you want to allow this application access to your photos?‘ prompt appears increasingly frequently.”
“This really adds just a single step between the provisioning of that access to the application,” he says further.
In addition, most users will provide the app access to whatever it is demanding since they have been conditioned to view prompts as a gate to accessing functionality. I suspect we’ve all done this at one time or another.
These misleading dialog boxes often come from so-called “malvertisements,” which ride on the back of the systems built for the mobile advertising ecosystem. This can happen on a mobile web browser or even inside an app.
According to Chuck Everette, Director of Cybersecurity Advocacy at Deep Instinct,
“the goal is to get you to click on the advertisement.” “They’re trying to bait you with something that will make you react instinctively, like an alert or a warning, and click without giving it much thought.” As he puts it, the goal is to “try and scare you or tempt you into clicking on the link.”
He gives the example of the Durak game, which was able to deceive people into unlocking their Android devices by disabling security settings and downloading further harmful software. Durak wasn’t some sketchy unofficial app you had to sideload; it was offered in the official Google Play marketplace.
“67% of all malicious apps can be traced back to being downloaded from the Google Play store, while only 10% came from alternative third-party party markets,” he says.
When deciding whether to download an app from Google Play, many users look to ratings and comments left by other users. This is not effective. He contrasts this with Apple’s approach, saying that while this results in fewer total apps, it significantly reduces the amount of fraudulent apps.
SMS text messaging, sometimes known as “phishing” or “smishing,” is another channel exploited by cybercriminals to induce their victims to click on malicious links; it employs a different set of social engineering methods but is just as effective at luring in the credulous and the influential.
According to Rasmus Holst, chief research officer at Wire,
“cybercriminals can use SMS phishing in a variety of ways, depending on their intention and goal.”
If the goal is to infect a user’s device with malware, the sender will typically include a malicious file in an email and encourage the recipient to download it with a persuasive message. To catch an unsuspecting victim in the act, hackers will often pose as someone they believe the target to trust, such as an employer or manager. Two years ago, after downloading a single video file from a reliable source, Jeff Bezos‘ phone was compromised. If a user clicks on a malicious link using a mobile browser that has a zero-day exploit, the hacker can install malware on the phone without the user’s knowledge or agreement.
If a hacker is unable to deceive you into inadvertently lowering your phone’s security barriers by pressing a button, they may look for someone who has already jailbroken their phone. The stringent security sandboxing that keeps smartphones locked down is relaxed upon jailbreaking, which is considered by many as allowing users to better customize their device and install the apps of their choosing from unapproved sources.
According to David Schoenberger, founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Eclypses, “Hackers create applications that users would have a genuine interest in, such as a free VPN,” with the goal of downloading malware onto unsuspecting customers’ devices. Once these malicious apps are installed, they check to see if the device has been rooted or jailbroken, and if it has, they steal personal information and other sensitive data. Once a device’s operating system has been jailbroken, sensitive information including passwords, chat logs, and financial data can be easily accessed.
If the user refuses to voluntarily hand up control of the device, the attacker can go around them and take it from the mobile service provider. You may recall the “blagging” controversy that rocked the British tabloids in the middle of the 2000s. This is when the tabloids gained unauthorized access to the mobile voicemail boxes of celebrities and victims of crime. This technique, also known as pretexting, involves an attacker assembling enough information about a victim such that they can convincingly mimic them in contacts with their phone provider.
Tabloids were only interested in getting scoops, but criminals can do much more harm using the same methods. According to Adam Kohnke, the information security manager at the Infosec Institute,
“if verified, the attacker convinces the phone carrier to transfer the victim’s phone number to a device they possess, in what is known as a SIM swap.“
Access codes, including two-factor authentication codes sent to your phone via SMS from your bank or financial providers, are now being sent to the attacker instead of you.
6. Breaking in via Bluetooth
Two wireless attack vectors exist that hackers can exploit to compromise a device without first obtaining the user’s consent. Both involve being in close proximity to the target, but can be accomplished in public settings under certain conditions. According to Aleksandr Maklakov, CIO and tech expert at MacKeeper,
“the Bluetooth connection is one of the weak spots for a smartphone,” and hackers frequently use “special methods” to connect to devices that work on Bluetooth and hack them.
Many people leave their Bluetooth connection on, making this a typical hacking approach. If your smartphone’s Bluetooth connection is unprotected, criminals can break in without you even knowing it.
7. Man-in-the-middle Wi-Fi attacks
“many people tend to connect their smartphones with the freely available public Wi-Fi whenever they get the opportunity.“
Clever hackers can easily intercept the connection and infect the phone if you have this bad habit. Hackers can glean a variety of information from intercepted messages without actually gaining control of the user’s phone. (Communication using TLS 1.3 is significantly harder to eavesdrop in this fashion, but that protocol is still not widely deployed.)
Securing Android Devices from Threats
They broke in; what should we do now?
What are the next steps for an attacker after they have successfully exploited one of the aforementioned smartphone vulnerabilities? Although smartphone operating systems are ultimately evolved from Unix-like systems, a successful attacker would face a vastly different environment on a smartphone than on a PC or server, according to Callum Duncan, director of Sencode Cybersecurity.
“Most apps interface with the operating system and other applications on what are essentially API calls,” he says.
Sharing exploits between iOS and Android is extremely unlikely because their kernels are so dissimilar to anything that resembles their Unix substrate. It is possible to access command lines on both smartphones, however doing so typically requires either rooting or jailbreaking the device.
It may be challenging, but that doesn’t make it impossible. Duncan confirms that such exploits are possible. As the author puts it,
“Privilege escalation would be key to this process and working around inbuilt safety mechanisms would be hard, but any attacker with the ability to run code on a user’s device is doing just that — running code on a user’s device — so if they’re smart enough they could make that device do whatever they please.“
According to Coalfire’s Director of the Application Security Center of Excellence Caitlin Johanson, attackers who get access to a device have startling access to sensitive data. The content of web requests and responses, as well as potentially sensitive information like cookies, can be stored in databases like SQLite, she explains. The caching of application data within memory (such as authentication credentials) and the preservation of thumbnails or snapshots of the running application are two of the most frequently detected vulnerabilities in both iOS and Android. Browser cookie values, crash files, preference files, and web cache content all contain sensitive information that is typically not encrypted and is stored locally on the device.
And “the very tools created for development purposes are what make it easier for an attacker to extract, interact with, or even modify this kind of data,” she says, citing Android’s abd and iOS’s iExplorer and plutil.
Database files extracted from the device can be examined using common utilities, and if decryption is required, there are programs like Frida that can execute scripts to decrypt the data.
We don’t want to give the impression that something is easier than it is. The vast majority of mobile device owners do not jailbreak their devices, fall for phishing schemes, or grant root access to malicious programs. Even when hackers manage to breach a device’s defenses, they often find themselves thwarted by the security features native to operating systems like iOS and Android.
More than any of the methods described here, hacking a smartphone comes down to sheer persistence.
“Attackers create highly repeatable and automated models that pick and pry at every angle of a mobile app or new operating system version in hope of finding a weak point,” says Hank Schless, Senior Manager of Security Solutions at Lookout.
Once they discover a vulnerability that may be exploited, they move quickly to take advantage of it before a patch is issued.
Even if you don’t know how to crack a cell phone, you probably know someone who does.
“Information sharing among cybercriminals most commonly occurs either on the dark web or in groups on encrypted chat platforms like Telegram,” explains Schless.
In order to create more effective malicious attacks, “larger groups,” including those funded by nation-states, are urged to share code and exploits amongst each other. The good guys, who have their work cut out for them, would do well to pool their information.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) related to “7 Ways To Hack An Android Phone”;
1. What is Android hacking, and why is it a concern?
- Android hacking refers to the unauthorized access, manipulation, or exploitation of Android mobile devices and their operating systems. It’s a concern because hackers may compromise user data, privacy, and device security.
2. What are some common methods used in Android hacking?
- Common methods include social engineering, malvertising, smishing, malware, pretexting, Bluetooth vulnerabilities, and man-in-the-middle Wi-Fi attacks. These methods aim to exploit human behavior, software vulnerabilities, and device weaknesses.
3. How does social engineering play a role in Android hacking?
- Social engineering tricks users into granting access to their devices or downloading malicious content. Attackers manipulate users into making inadvertent security breaches, making it one of the primary attack vectors.
4. What is malvertising, and how does it affect Android devices?
- Malvertisements are deceptive ads that encourage users to click on links, leading to malware installation. Users might encounter these ads on mobile browsers or within apps, potentially compromising their devices.
5. What is smishing, and how does it work in Android hacking?
- Smishing (SMS phishing) is a method where cybercriminals use text messages to deceive users into clicking malicious links. Attackers often impersonate trusted sources, aiming to trick users into downloading malware.
6. What risks do malware pose to Android devices?
- Malware can compromise device security, steal sensitive information, and even damage the device’s functionality. It often exploits vulnerabilities on devices that have been jailbroken or rooted.
7. What is pretexting, and how can attackers use it to gain control over Android devices?
- Pretexting involves an attacker impersonating a victim in interactions with mobile service providers. This can lead to actions like SIM swapping, resulting in the attacker gaining control over the victim’s phone number.
8. How do Bluetooth vulnerabilities and man-in-the-middle Wi-Fi attacks work in Android hacking?
- Bluetooth vulnerabilities involve hackers exploiting unprotected Bluetooth connections, while man-in-the-middle Wi-Fi attacks occur when hackers intercept connections and potentially infect devices when users connect to public Wi-Fi networks.
9. What measures can users take to secure their Android devices from hacking threats?
- Users should adopt secure practices, including using encryption (e.g., TLS), downloading apps from trusted sources like Google Play, and being cautious with SMS payments. Regularly updating devices and apps is crucial.
10. What’s the role of information sharing in cyberattacks, and where does it typically occur?
Information sharing among cybercriminals often takes place on the dark web and encrypted chat platforms like Telegram. This sharing of code and exploits contributes to creating more effective malicious attacks.
Remember, staying informed about hacking methods and adopting good security practices is essential in safeguarding Android devices from potential threats.