Android Ransomwares: The Escalated Battle

Authors: Tianfang Guo, Jinjian Zhai

When talking about the cybercrime industry, “business model” is more important than the technology itself. According to Security Magazine Cybercrime is costing businesses more than $1,500 per employee annually. That’s a likely a drop in the bucket compared to how much ransomware pirates are extorting from business.

Last year, we published an article “Android Ransomwares – A True Threat or Bluffing”. Reviewing it today, most of the predictions in that article about the technologies used on Android ransomware have come true. Driven by profits, the ransomware makers have shelfed ethicsand laws, trying everything to force the victims pay money. According to the Mcafee lab, the number of ransomwarerequests have grown 165% in Q1 2015. [1]

How can businesses proactively repel Ransomware? Trustlookhas reviewed large amount of ransomware samples in the last few weeks and is building a solution. This article analyzes the ideas and technologies behind the ransomware as well as introducing TrustLook’s solution of detecting them.

Ransomware is best analyzed through 3 key metrics: how they block the normal usage of your phone; in what way they receive a payment from the victim; and how they spread themselves. We will categorize the ransomware by the first and foremost metric, how they block the normal usage, which consists of three classes or levels of harm of severity:

  • Class A: They will cause software level damage to your phone:impairing data, and/or gaining higher privileges to maintain controlling and commanding. These Android ransomware do, on phone, as what the traditional ransomware do on PC.
  • Class B: They will not cause damage or gain higher privilege, but cause trouble on the regular usage of the phone: E.g. popping up “NAG”[2] messages that keep on top of the screen. They can be fixed in an easier way than Class A ransomware.
  • Class C: They do not use any technology to block the usage, instead they rely on fraud information and social engineering to con victims. They are scam apps in natural than ransomware.

We will only discuss Class A and B ransomware in this article. All the malware mentioned in this article is now detected by Trustlook’s security solution.

Class A Ransomwares:

Sample name: Android Performance Enhance
Package name: tx.qq898507339.bzy9
MD5: cdc77f3dfabdea5c5278ac9e50841ff3


  • – Forged into an system enhancement app
  • – Cheat the user to authorize the device admin, including changing screen-unlock password and lock screen permissions.
  • – Lock screen with a password, victims are supposed to contact the author and make a payment to get the unlock password. We pretended to be the victim and contacted the author. He asked 50 RMB (~$9), via AliPay (China’s paypal).
  • – Cannot be uninstalled using ADB due to the device admin privilege
  • – Spread mainly in China, via Baidu “Tieba” (like China’s reddit) and cloud storage

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 10.30.59 PM
Ask for device admin

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 10.31.55 PM

Lock screen with a password

Remove Difficulty: 4.5 stars
Transmission: 3 stars
Creativity: 3 stars
Overall Severity: 4.5 stars


Sample name: PornPlayer
Package name: com.ayurvedic
MD5: f91b39614dae1aae69337662dd287949


  • – Forged into a porn video player
  • – Ask for device admin for self protection
  • – Encrypt media files using AES algorithm, difficult to recover the files unless intercept the key before it’s sent out
  • – Pop up an always on top window, ask payment for the unlock key
  • – Stealing phone contacts and call logs
  • – Cannot be uninstalled using ADB due to the device admin privilege

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 10.33.25 PM


Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 10.34.19 PM

Our sandbox has clearly intercepted the suspicious encryption operation and the encryption key:

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 10.35.17 PM

Remove Difficulty: 5 stars

Transmission: 1 star

Creativity: 2 stars

Overall Severity: 5 stars


Sample name: Flash Player
Package name:
MD5: 645a60e6f4393e4b7e2ae16758dd3a11


  • – Forged into the Flash Player
  • – Ask for device admin for self protection
  • – Forged FBI surveillance message, pop up with an interval of 5s
  • – Ask for $300 via MoneyPak voucher code

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 10.36.20 PM

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 10.38.19 PM

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 10.41.18 PM

Remove Difficulty: 4 stars

Transmission: 2 stars

Creativity: 3 stars

Overall Severity: 4 stars

Class A ransomware summary:

They are one of the most severe type of malware on Android. Their logic is straightforward: block your phone usage, make sure you cannot recover by your own, then ask you “data or money”.

As Android ransomwares don’t have the privilege of their Windows equivalent, the device admin became a critical path for them to do the damage (wipe data, lock screen with password) and self protection – and some users have no idea what device admin is, what can it do and how to revoke it. Even for experienced Android users, they won’t be able to get into the “settings” app to revoke it if the ransomware pops up an always on top activity by applying the SYSTEM_ALERT_WINDOW permission. (or exploiting the device admin vulnerability

Even without device admin, the WRITE_EXTERNAL_STORAGE permission will allow the ransomware to encrypt the files on SD card, including the media files, as “hostage”.


Class B Ransomwares:

Sample name: Video Player
Package name: com.adobe.videoprayer
MD5: f836f5c6267f13bf9f6109a6b8d79175


  • – Forged into a video player
  • – Pops up a fake FBI surveillance message
  • – Set the activity always on top. Cannot dismiss using home/return button.
  • – Take photo at background as “evidence”
  • – Access the browser history
  • – Stealing the contacts, threat the user to send the “evidence of watch child pornography” to the victim’s contacts.
  • – Ask $500 via Paypal prepaid voucher card
  • – Send SMS at background to the victim’s contacts with the download link, to spread virally.

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 10.42.11 PM

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 10.44.06 PM

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 10.45.04 PM

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 10.48.09 PM

Our sandbox has intercept its background behaviors:

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 10.49.16 PM

Remove Difficulty: 3 stars

Transmission: 5 stars

Creativity: 4.5 stars

Overall Severity: 5 stars


Sample name: APK compiler
Package name: com.qq2395414390
MD5: f836f5c6267f13bf9f6109a6b8d79175


  • – Forged into a APK enhancement app
  • – Pops up a windows that always on top. Unable to dismiss using home/return button.
  • – Plays very loud sound. Embarrass the victim in public.
  • – Victims are supposed to contact the author and make a payment.
  • – Spread via “QQ Groupchat”(famous PC messenger in China)

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 10.50.32 PM

Remove Difficulty: 2 stars

Transmission: 3 stars

Creativity: 3 stars

Overall Severity: 3 stars



Class B ransomware summary:

The main idea behind Class B ransomware is “social engineering”, rather than technology. They usually use some sneaky ways to make users fear or embarrassed, and pay money.

Most of them will abuse the SYSTEM_ALERT_WINDOW permission, to pop up an always on-top window.

On the other hand, as they don’t have device admin and file encryption, they can be easily killed by a single “adb uninstall” command by an experienced Android user. If their tricks are unveiled.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s