Google patches Android icon permissions attack

FireEye found malware that could change other icons, sending victims to phishing sites

Google has issued a patch for an attack that could lead an Android user to a phishing site, according to security vendor FireEye.

FireEye recently spotted an malicious Android application that could modify the icons of other applications so that when they're launched, they send victims to a phishing website.

The malware is abusing a set of permissions known as "com.android.launcher.permission.READ_SETTINGS" and "com.android.launcher.permission.WRITE_SETTINGS."

The permissions allow an application to modify configuration settings of Android's Launcher, including that of icons, wrote researchers Hui XueYulong Zhang and Tao Wei on a company blog.

The two permissions have long been classified as "normal," a designation give to application permissions thought to have no malicious possibilities. Android users aren't warned about granting those permissions when they install an application, they wrote.

But "using these normal permissions, a malicious app can replace legit Android home screen icons with fake ones that point to phishing apps or websites," they wrote.

FireEye developed a proof-of-concept attack using Google's Nexus 7 tablet running Android version 4.2.2 to show icons could be modified to send people to another website. During their tests, they uploaded their application to Google's Play store but removed it quickly.

Google's Play store, which does check applications for security issues, didn't prevent FireEye's application from appearing in the store, they wrote. No one else downloaded the proof-of-concept app, FireEye said.

The danger is that attackers could modify the icon of a banking application and fool users into divulging sensitive information on a fake website they've created.

Other Android devices that don't use the "Launcher" functionality in the Android Open Source Project are also vulnerable.

FireEye tested a Nexus 7 running CyanogenMod, an Android variant, as well as a Samsung Galaxy S4 running Android 4.3 and an HTC One running 4.4.2. All classify the "read_settings" and "write_settings" permissions as normal.

Google has released a patch to its OEM partners, FireEye wrote. But many Android vendors are slow to adopt security upgrades, they wrote.

Security experts have long noted that patching mobile devices, especially those already in the hands of customers, is inconsistent and slow.

"We urge these vendors to patch vulnerabilities more quickly to protect their users," FireEye wrote.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

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