Android vs. SEAndroid: An empirical assessment

By Alessio Merlo August 1, 2016

Android has a layered architecture that allows applications to leverage services provided by the underlying Linux kernel. However, Android does not prevent applications from directly triggering the kernel functionalities through system call invocations. As recently shown in the literature, this feature can be abused by malicious applications and thus lead to undesirable effects. The adoption of SEAndroid in the latest Android distributions may mitigate the problem. Yet, the effectiveness of SEAndroid to counter these threats is still to be ascertained. In this paper we present an empirical evaluation of the effectiveness of SEAndroid in detecting malicious interplays targeted to the underlying Linux kernel. This is done by extensively profiling the behavior of honest and malicious applications both in standard Android and SEAndroid-enabled distributions. Our analysis indicates that SEAndroid does not prevent direct, possibly malicious, interactions between applications and the Linux kernel, thus showing how it can be circumvented by suitably-crafted system calls. Therefore, we propose a runtime monitoring enforcement module (called Kernel Call Controller) which is compatible both with Android and SEAndroid and is able to enforce security policies on kernel call invocations. We experimentally assess both the efficacy and the performance of KCC on actual devices.

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