May 31, 2017 By Mark Samuels 2 min read

Your Android device could be at risk from a new class of attack that allows for full takeover of the smartphone. Researchers at Georgia Tech recently discovered an attack known as Cloak and Dagger. It gives cyberattackers the opportunity to undertake malicious control of an Android device without users noticing the errant activity.

Overall, malicious malware is becoming a frequent issue in the app marketplace. Researchers recently uncovered several Android apps that masqueraded as a Funny Videos app on the Google Play Store but distributed a banking Trojan.

How Is Your Device Affected?

The Cloak and Dagger attack abuses a pair of legitimate app permissions that are used across certain features on Androids. These permissions are known as SYSTEM_ALERT_WINDOW (“draw on top”) and BIND_ACCESSIBILITY_SERVICE (“a11y”). The first permission allows apps to overlap on a device’s screen, and the second lets disabled users enter inputs via voice commands.

Abuse of these permissions makes it easier for cybercriminals to potentially develop and then submit a malicious app to Google Play Store. Mashable reported that an actor could use these accepted permissions paired with a “God-Mode” app to access messages and calls, keylog and clickjack a smartphone.

In this specific attack case, the user does not necessarily need to grant permission and is not even notified of a change in device behavior. In fact, the researchers performed a 20-person user study, and no one could detect malicious activity.

How Is the Issue Being Resolved?

These attacks affect all recent versions of Android, including 7.1.2, and researchers suggested that the flaws are not yet fixed. They also said the problem could be difficult to resolve because the issues involve two standard features in Android OS.

A Google spokesperson told The Register that the technology giant has been in close contact with the researchers in Georgia. The spokesperson added the company refreshed Google Play Protect to prevent the installation of malware and detect any similar malicious apps in the future.

Google said it already built new security protections into Android O that will strengthen protection in the future. However, Google O is scheduled for release later this year, and users will need to wait for higher levels of protection.

How Should Users React?

Georgia Tech said users should check which applications have access to the draw on top and the a11y permissions. They can also disable the draw on top permission used in Android 7.1.2.

The Hacker News explained the most comprehensive way to avoid hacking is to download apps from trusted and verified developers in the Google Play Store. The article also advised users to check for app permissions before installation.

News of this attack comes in the wake of a continuing run of stories involving mobile malware and banking Trojans. Users should stay alert to potential security risks and ensure app permissions are both monitored and restricted. If an app seems to ask for more permissions than necessary, avoid it all together.

More from

New memo reveals Biden’s cybersecurity priorities through fiscal year 2026

2 min read - On July 10, 2024, the White House released a new memo regarding the Biden administration’s cybersecurity investment priorities, initially proposed in July 2022. This new memorandum now marks the third time the Office of the National Cyber Director (ONCD), headed by Harry Coker, has released updated priorities and outlined procedures regarding the five core pillars of the National Cybersecurity Strategy Implementation Plan (NCSIP), now relevant through fiscal year 2026. Key highlights from the FY26 memorandum In the latest annual version…

How prepared are you for your first Gen AI disruption?

5 min read - Generative artificial intelligence (Gen AI) and its use by businesses to enhance operations and profits are the focus of innovation in virtually every sector and industry. Gartner predicts that global spending on AI software will surge from $124 billion in 2022 to $297 billion by 2027. Businesses are upskilling their teams and hiring costly experts to implement new use cases, new ways to leverage data and new ways to use open-source tooling and resources. What they have failed to look…

Cybersecurity crisis communication: What to do

4 min read - Cybersecurity experts tell organizations that the question is not if they will become the target of a cyberattack but when. Often, the focus of response preparedness is on the technical aspects — how to stop the breach from continuing, recovering data and getting the business back online. While these tasks are critical, many organizations overlook a key part of response preparedness: crisis communication. Because a brand’s reputation often takes a significant hit, a cyberattack can significantly affect the company’s future…

Topic updates

Get email updates and stay ahead of the latest threats to the security landscape, thought leadership and research.
Subscribe today