Tackling runtime-based obfuscation in Android with TIRO


Michelle Y. Wong and David Lie, University of Toronto


Obfuscation is used in malware to hide malicious activity from manual or automatic program analysis. On the Android platform, malware has had a history of using obfuscation techniques such as Java reflection, code packing and value encryption. However, more recent malware has turned to employing obfuscation that subverts the integrity of the Android runtime (ART or Dalvik), a technique we call runtime-based obfuscation. Once subverted, the runtime no longer follows the normally expected rules of code execution and method invocation, raising the difficulty of deobfuscating and analyzing malware that use these techniques.

In this work, we propose TIRO, a deobfuscation framework for Android using an approach of Target-Instrument-Run-Observe. TIRO provides a unified framework that can deobfuscate malware that use a combination of traditional obfuscation and newer runtime-based obfuscation techniques. We evaluate and use TIRO on a dataset of modern Android malware samples and find that TIRO can automatically detect and reverse language-based and runtime-based obfuscation. We also evaluate TIRO on a corpus of 2000 malware samples from VirusTotal and find that runtime-based obfuscation techniques are present in 80% of the samples, demonstrating that runtime-based obfuscation is a significant tool employed by Android malware authors today.

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@inproceedings {217474,
author = {Michelle Y. Wong and David Lie},
title = {Tackling runtime-based obfuscation in Android with {TIRO}},
booktitle = {27th USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 18)},
year = {2018},
isbn = {978-1-939133-04-5},
address = {Baltimore, MD},
pages = {1247--1262},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/usenixsecurity18/presentation/wong},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug

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