DEFInit: An Analysis of Exposed Android Init Routines


Yuede Ji, University of North Texas; Mohamed Elsabagh, Ryan Johnson, and Angelos Stavrou, Kryptowire


During the booting process of an Android device, a special daemon called Init is launched by the kernel as the first user-space process. Android allows vendors to extend the behavior of Init by introducing custom routines in .rc files. These Init routines can also be triggered by privileged pre-installed apps in a certain manner to accomplish privileged functionalities. However, as these pre-installed apps may fail to properly protect access to code sites triggering these Init routines, the capabilities of these routines may leak to unprivileged apps, resulting in crossing security boundaries set by the system. To this end, this study aims at investigating the prevalence of these Init routines and their security impact. We present DEFInit as a tool to help automate the process of identifying Init routines exposed by pre-installed apps and estimating their potential security impact. Our findings are alarming. We found that custom Init routines added by vendors were substantial and had significant security impact. On a data set of 259 firmware from the top 21 vendors worldwide, we identified 1,947 exposed custom Init routines in 101 firmware from 13 vendors. Of these routines, 515 performed at least one sensitive action. We verified 89 instances spanning 30 firmware from 6 vendors, allowing unprivileged apps to perform sensitive functionalities without user interaction, including disabling SELinux enforcement, sniffing network traffic, reading system logs, among others.

Open Access Media

USENIX is committed to Open Access to the research presented at our events. Papers and proceedings are freely available to everyone once the event begins. Any video, audio, and/or slides that are posted after the event are also free and open to everyone. Support USENIX and our commitment to Open Access.

@inproceedings {274695,
author = {Yuede Ji and Mohamed Elsabagh and Ryan Johnson and Angelos Stavrou},
title = {{DEFInit}: An Analysis of Exposed Android Init Routines},
booktitle = {30th USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 21)},
year = {2021},
isbn = {978-1-939133-24-3},
pages = {3685--3702},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug

Presentation Video