Android Hacking

Posted by antitree on Wed 07 September 2011

image0Android right now makes up 52% of the smartphone market share and a third of the tablets. I've been focused on Android lately and wanted to do an introduction to the hackability of these devices. From a security perspective, Android offers some interesting opportunities: rooting your phone, hacking an app, or malware analysis. For the hardware hackers, Google and others are offering hardware tools that can plug into your Android device to enable use them for your hardware projects. If you're interested in the creative path, it's really easy to get started doing app development.


Rooting your device offers the user full control of the device to allow to change the version of the operating system, install or uninstall any apps you'd like, and in some cases gain access to features that would otherwise be locked out by the carrier. If none of those interest you, the geek cred alone may be good enough.

Rooting is nothing more than a privilege escalation attack. You are granted standard user access to your phone but you'd like to escalate to root level privileges. Android, being built on top of Linux follows the common practice of granting root only when necessary to your device's operations. There are a bunch of attack vectors like exploiting a service running as root, exploiting a file that has root access,

App Hacking:

There's a lot of fun stuff you can do to hack an Android app. It's originally coded in Java and although Android runs it's own Java environment called Dalvik VM, an app can be decompiled from it's byte code to Java class files. From there you can do some reverse engineering to take a look at how the app operates. With a little luck and skill, you can recompile a modified version of the app. I'm not going to go too deep into this idea but if you're interested, I'll be doing a presentation at this years Rochester Security Summit that will give you the tools to do this analysis yourself.


For the security guys now, malware analysis is a fun way to get a peek into how the bad guys work. Android is in a battle with malware usually available in alternative markets. Nasty apps like "Nickispy" will steal your personal information and even record your calls to upload them back to a server. Some will root your device and install a backdoor like the latest variant of DroidKungFu. With some tools and some different analysis techniques, you can perform the analysis yourself. Jason Ross will also be presenting this year at RSS on this topic if you're interested.

Hardware Hacking:

At this years Google IO, they announced the release of the Android Development Kit which is a bridge between your Android device and your hardware projects. Imagine controlling an Arduino with a touch screen interface or using the sensors from your phone to control a robot. As a cheap alternative to the $300+ kit, Sparkfun has created the Android IOIO, pronounced yoyo. This is what my next project will include with a little help from the robot crew at Interlock.

App Development:

If programming or art is your thing, or you want to make your next million dollars on an Angry Birds killer, you can get started developing apps on the Android Marketplace for $25. This gets you an account to upload your app to the public directory and it will show up on thousands of people's phones. The Android SDK along with the Eclipse plugins make it pretty easy to develop without too much programming knowledge.

Android At Interlock:

In the coming months, along with all the other changes, we're planning on doing an Android workshop at the space. Depending on the interest it may be related to rooting or application development.