College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Kothari to develop malware detection tool for Android phones

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Suraj KothariSuraj Kothari, professor of electrical and computer engineering, is leading a research project that will increase the security of Android phones. Funded by a $4.1 million, 3.5-year grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the project’s objective is to develop a tool to detect malware placed unknowingly within applications on the mobile devices.

According to Kothari, malware apps silently leak sensitive information without revealing themselves, with mobile malware presenting several sophistications that need special attention. “We are looking at malicious software that leaves a scattered footprint and that exhibits behaviors that blend with legitimate functionalities of a given application,” he said.

The tool Kothari and his team are designing also includes a framework that gathers important information about an app as it scans code for malware. This data is presented in a digestible form that can be analyzed by a human, allowing for more accurate assessments about an app’s intentions than systems currently in place.

“Detecting malware on mobile devices using a completely automated process hasn’t been successful in producing consistent, valuable results,” said Kothari. “We needed a solution that included human interaction, but we also needed to ensure the person analyzing the results could do so without having to parse enormous amounts of information.”

Kothari has partnered with Xuxian Jiang, assistant professor of computer science at North Carolina State University, and Jeremias Sauceda, chief technology officer at EnSoft Corp., on the project.

The team is currently designing, programming, and testing the tool, and is also creating a “cookbook” of properties the tool will use to identify malware-like code. Once implemented, the tool will be flexible enough to be refined and extended to address future malware attacks.