Malware Is Still Spying On You Even When Your Mobile Is Off

February 18, 2015

Newly discovered Android malware hijacks your phone when you believe you have switched it off.

Most of us have seen Hollywood movies where hackers trace and spy on mobile devices even though they are switched off. Like most things in spy movies, we disregard it as fiction.

However, the AVG mobile security team recently discovered malware that may challenge this preconception. The malware , known as Android/PowerOffHijack, hijacks the shutdown process and the device remains functional even though it appears to be off.

First seen in China, the malware spreads through Chinese app stores with around 10,000 devices infected so far.

The malware affects versions of Android older than v.5 (Lollipop) and requires root permission to hijack the shut down process.

After pressing the power button, the phone displays an authentic shutdown animation, and the phone appears off. Although the screen is black, it is still on.

While the phone is in this state, the malware can make outgoing calls, take pictures and perform many other tasks without notifying you.

How does this happen?


Analysing the shutdown process

On Android devices, when the power off button is pressed it will invoke the interceptKeyBeforeQueueing function of the class interceptKeyBeforeQueueing. interceptKeyBeforeQueueing will check if the power off button is pressed and go to certain process.

When the power button is released, intereceptPowerKeyUp is invoked and it will trigger a runnable to continue.

So according to above code snippet, we could see that in LONG_PRESS_POWER_GLOBAL_ACTIONS switch, some actions will be done after power off button is released. showGlobalActionsDialog is what we care about, which will open a dialog for your to select actions, such as power off, mute or airplane mode.

So if you select power off option, mWindowManagerFuncs.shutdown will be called.

But mWindowManagerFuncs is an interface object. It will actually call the thread ShutDownThread’s shutdown function. ShutDownThread.shutdown is the real entry point of the shut down process. It will shut down radio service first and invoke the power manager service to turn the power off.

So finally in power manager service, a native function is called to turn the power off.

Now we have understood the whole process of shutting down your mobile. So if we want to hijack the power off process, we definitely need to interfere before mWindowManagerFuncs.shutdown  as that shuts down the radio service.

Let’s turn back to the malware which executes a similar attack.


Analysing the malware

First, it applies for the root permission.

Second, after root permission is acquired, the malware will inject the system_server process and hook the mWindowManagerFuncs object.

Third, after the hook, when you press the power button, a fake dialog will pop up. And if you select power off option, it will display a fake shut down animation, leaving the power on but the screen off.

Last, in order to make your mobile look like really off, some system broadcast services also need to be hooked.

Let’s see some examples:

Recording a call

Transmitting private messages

Luckily, this malware has been detected by AVG.

AVG Mobile Malware Research team

February 18, 2015