Legitimate Looking Multi-Stage Malware Make Their Way into Google Play Store


ESETAndroid-Malware-2 has discovered another set of malicious apps in the official Android app store, detected by ESET security systems as Android/TrojanDropper.Agent.BKY, the eight apps form a new family of legitimate-looking, multi-stage Android malware and with delayed onset of malicious activity.

Luckily, by the time ESET was making this discovery, none of the apps had reached more than a few hundred downloads.

These apps all employed a multi-stage architecture and encryption to stay under the radar. After being downloaded and installed, the apps would not request any suspicious permissions and would even mimic the activity the user expects them to exhibit.

Along with this, the malicious app also decrypts and executes its first-stage payload which in turn decrypts and executes the second-stage payload, which was then stored in the assets of the initial app downloaded from Google Play. The steps remained invisible to the user.

Execution model of Android/TrojanDropper.Agent.BKY


The second-stage payload contained a hardcoded URL, from which it downloaded another malicious app (that is, the third-stage payload) without the victim’s knowledge. After a pre-defined delay of approximately five minutes, the user was then prompted to install the downloaded app.

The app downloaded by the second-stage payload, disguised as well-known software like Adobe Flash Player or as something legitimate-sounding yet completely fictional – for example, “Android Update” or “Adobe Update”. In any case, the app’s purpose was to drop the final payload and obtain all the permissions that payload needed for its malicious actions.

Installation request for the third-stage payload

Once installed and having the requested permissions granted, the malicious app serving as the third-stage payload decrypted and executed the fourth-stage – and final – payload.

In all the cases investigated by ESET, the final payload was a mobile banking trojan. Once installed, it behaved like a typical malicious app of this kind: with potential to present the user with fake login forms to steal credentials or credit card details.

One of the malicious apps downloaded its final payload using the bit.ly URL shortener. Thanks to this, ESET was able to obtain download stats: as of November 14, 2017, the link had been used almost 3000 times with the vast majority of hits coming from the Netherlands.

Two of most recent samples of Android/TrojanDropper.Agent.BKY were caught downloading either MazarBot, a notorious banking trojan, or spyware. Given its nature, this downloader can deliver any payload of the criminals’ choice as long as it doesn’t get flagged by the Google Protect mechanism.

Unfortunately, multi-stage downloaders, with their improved obfuscation features, have a better chance of sneaking into official app stores than common Android malware does. Users who want to stay protected should not rely fully on the stores’ protections; instead, it’s crucial for users to check app ratings and comments, pay attention to what permissions they grant to apps, and run a quality security solution on their mobile devices.

ESET has since notified Google’s security team about the issue. Google has removed all eight apps from its store.

How to get rid of it

Six of the multi-stage downloaders discovered on Google Play

If you’ve downloaded any of these apps, you need to:

  1. Deactivate admin rights for the maliciously installed app
  2. Uninstall this app
  3. Uninstall the app you downloaded from the Play Store

To deactivate admin rights for the  maliciously installed app (payload), go to
Settings > (General) > Security > Device administrators
and search for Adobe Flash Player, Adobe Update or Android Update.

To uninstall the installed payload, go to
Settings > (General) > Application manager/Apps
and search for the particular apps (Adobe Flash Player, Adobe Update or Android Update) to uninstall them.

To uninstall the malicious app downloaded from the Play store, go to
Settings > (General) > Application manager/Apps
and search for apps going by the following names: MEX Tools, Clear Android, Cleaner for Android, World News, WORLD NEWS, World News PRO,

Note that the settings structure may vary slightly depending on your Android version.