Precisely Extracting Complex Variable Values from Android Apps

AuthorMiltenberger, Marc; Arzt, Steven
TypeJournal Article
AbstractMillions of users nowadays rely on their smartphones to process sensitive data through apps from various vendors and sources. Therefore, it is vital to assess these apps for security vulnerabilities and privacy violations. Information such as to which server an app connects through which protocol, and which algorithm it applies for encryption are usually encoded as variable values and arguments of API calls. However, extracting these values from an app is not trivial. The source code of an app is usually not available, and manual reverse engineering is cumbersome with binary sizes in the tens of megabytes. Current automated tools, on the other hand, cannot retrieve values that are computed at runtime through complex transformations. In this paper, we present ValDroid, a novel static analysis tool for automatically extracting the set of possible values for a given variable at a given statement in the Dalvik byte code of an Android app. We evaluate ValDroid against existing approaches (JSA, Violist, DroidRA, Harvester, BlueSeal, StringHound, IC3, COAL) on benchmarks and 794 real-world apps. ValDroid greatly outperforms existing tools. It provides an average F1 score of more than 90%, while only requiring 0.1 seconds per value on average. For many data types including Network Connections and Dynamic Code Loading, its recall is more than twice the recall of the best existing approaches.