A Large-scale Temporal Measurement of Android Malicious Apps: Persistence, Migration, and Lessons Learned


Yun Shen and Pierre-Antoine Vervier, Norton Research Group; Gianluca Stringhini, Boston University


We study the temporal dynamics of potentially harmful apps (PHAs) on Android by leveraging 8.8M daily on-device detections collected among 11.7M customers of a popular mobile security product between 2019 and 2020. We show that the current security model of Android, which limits security products to run as regular apps and prevents them from automatically removing malicious apps opens a significant window of opportunity for attackers. Such apps warn users about the newly discovered threats, but users do not promptly act on this information, allowing PHAs to persist on their device for an average of 24 days after they are detected. We also find that while app markets remove PHAs after these become known, there is a significant delay between when PHAs are identified and when they are removed: PHAs persist on Google Play for 77 days on average and 34 days on third party marketplaces. Finally, we find evidence of PHAs migrating to other marketplaces after being removed on the original one. This paper provides an unprecedented view of the Android PHA landscape, showing that current defenses against PHAs on Android are not as effective as commonly thought, and identifying multiple research directions that the security community should pursue, from orchestrating more effective PHA takedowns to devising better alerts for mobile security products.

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@inproceedings {277110,
author = {Yun Shen and Pierre-Antoine Vervier and Gianluca Stringhini},
title = {A Large-scale Temporal Measurement of Android Malicious Apps: Persistence, Migration, and Lessons Learned},
booktitle = {31st USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 22)},
year = {2022},
isbn = {978-1-939133-31-1},
address = {Boston, MA},
pages = {1167--1184},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/usenixsecurity22/presentation/shen-yun},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug,