Anti-Malware Research Whitepapers

Mandrake – owning Android devices since 2016

In early 2020 we identified a new, highly sophisticated Android espionage platform that had been active in the wild for at least 4 years. We named the threat Mandrake as the actor(s) behind it used names of toxic plants, or other botanical references, for major development branches: e.g. Briar, Ricinus or Nerium.

An investigation by Bitdefender researchers Marius TIVADAR, Rickey GEVERS, Rareș BLEOTU, Alin Mihai BARBATEI, Bíró BALÁZS and Claudiu COBLIȘ 

An incredibly sophisticated piece of Android malware

Unlike run of the mill malware, Mandrake puts in significant effort NOT to infect victims. It cherry-picks a handful of devices it gets installed on for further exploitation. This is likely because its operators know that they increase their chances of being called out with every device they infect, so they have instructed the malware to avoid countries where compromised devices won’t bring them any return of interest.

The malware also uses advanced manipulation tactics to bait users. For instance, it re-draws what the user sees on the screen to hijack taps. What the users perceive as accepting an End-User License Agreement is actually a complex series of requesting and receiving extremely powerful permissions. With those permissions, the malware gets complete control of the device and data on it.

If you want to learn more about Mandrake, the whitepaper below provides insight into how the malware operates, what its end goal seems to be and how it successfully managed to stay undetected in an official app store for more than 4 years.

Download the whitepaper

About the author

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Bogdan BOTEZATU

Bogdan Botezatu is living his second childhood at Bitdefender as senior e-threat analyst. When he is not documenting sophisticated strains of malware or writing removal tools, he teaches extreme sports such as surfing the web without protection or rodeo with wild Trojan horses. He believes that most things in life can be beat with strong heuristics and that antimalware research is like working for a secret agency: you need to stay focused at all times, but you get all the glory when you catch the bad guys.

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