In the middle of 2019, xHelper malware affected over 45,000 devices. It reinstalls even after factory reset and now researchers found how its reinstall after factory reset.
How does xHelper work?
First, The malware apperars as popular cleaning app and speed up your phone. But it disappears after installation from app drawer. You can see only by inspecting list of apps installed in settings menu.
The Trojan payload is encryted in the file /assets/firehelper.jar. Its main task is to send information about the victim’s phone (android_id, manufacturer, model, firmware version, etc.) to hackers website.
This malware decrypts and launches its payload using a bundled native library; this approach makes it difficult to analyze the module. At this stage, the next dropper, Trojan-Dropper.AndroidOS.Helper.b, is decrypted and launched. This in turn runs the malware Trojan-Downloader.AndroidOS.Leech.p, which further infects the device.
Leech.p is tasked with downloading HEUR:Trojan.AndroidOS.Triada.dd with a set of exploits for obtaining root privileges on the victim’s device.
Malicious files are stored sequentially in the app’s data folder, which other programs do not have access to. This matryoshka-style scheme allows the malware authors to obscure the trail and use malicious modules that are known to security solutions. The malware can gain root access mainly on devices running Android versions 6 and 7 from Chinese manufacturers (including ODMs). After obtaining privileges, xHelper can install malicious files directly in the system partition.
Note here that the system partition is mounted at system startup in read-only mode. Armed with root rights, the Trojan remounts it in write mode and proceeds to the main job of starting the tellingly named script forever.sh. Triada employs its best-known tricks, including remounting the system partition to install its programs there. In our case, the package com.diag.patches.vm8u is installed, which we detect as Trojan-Dropper.AndroidOS.Tiny.d.
And several executable files get copied to the /system/bin folder:
- patches_mu8v_oemlogo — Trojan.AndroidOS.Triada.dd
- debuggerd_hulu —AndroidOS.Triada.dy
- kcol_ysy — HEUR:Trojan.AndroidOS.Triada.dx
- /.luser/bkdiag_vm8u_date — HEUR:Trojan.AndroidOS.Agent.rt
- A few more files are copied to the /system/xbin folder:
A call to files from the xbin folder is added to the file install-recovery.sh, which allows Triada to run at system startup. All files in the target folders are assigned the immutable attribute, which makes it difficult to delete the malware, because the system does not allow even superusers to delete files with this attribute. However, this self-defense mechanism employed by the Trojan can be countered by deleting this attribute using the chattr command.
The question arises: if the malware is able to remount the system partition in write mode in order to copy itself there, can the user adopt the same strategy to delete it? Triada’s creators also contemplated this question, and duly applied another protection technique that involved modifying the system library /system/lib/libc.so. This library contains common code used by almost all executable files on the device. Triada substitutes its own code for the mount function (used to mount file systems) in libc, thereby preventing the user from mounting the /system partition in write mode.
On top of that, the Trojan downloads and installs several more malicious programs (for example, HEUR:Trojan-Dropper.AndroidOS.Necro.z), and deletes root access control applications, such as Superuser.
How to get rid of xHelper?
As follows from the above, simply removing xHelper does not entirely disinfect the system. The program com.diag.patches.vm8u, installed in the system partition, reinstalls xHelper and other malware at the first opportunity.
But if you have Recovery mode set up on your Android smartphone, you can try to extract the libc.so file from the original firmware and replace the infected one with it, before removing all malware from the system partition. However, it’s simpler and more reliable to completely reflash the phone.
Bear in mind too that the firmware of smartphones attacked by xHelper sometimes contains preinstalled malware that independently downloads and installs programs (including xHelper). In this case, reflashing is pointless, so it would be worth considering alternative firmwares for your device. If you do use a different firmware, remember that some of the device’s components might not operate properly.
In any event, using a smartphone infected with xHelper is extremely dangerous. The malware installs a backdoor with the ability to execute commands as a superuser. It provides the attackers with full access to all app data and can be used by other malware too, for example, CookieThief.