Lifting The Grey Curtain: A First Look at the Ecosystem of CULPRITWARE

Zhuo Chen, Lei Wu, Jing Cheng, Yubo Hu, Yajin Zhou, Zhushou Tang, Yexuan Chen, Jinku Li, Kui Ren

Mobile apps are extensively involved in cyber-crimes. Some apps are malware which compromise users' devices, while some others may lead to privacy leakage. Apart from them, there also exist apps which directly make profit from victims through deceiving, threatening or other criminal actions. We name these apps as CULPRITWARE. They have become emerging threats in recent years. However, the characteristics and the ecosystem of CULPRITWARE remain mysterious. This paper takes the first step towards systematically studying CULPRITWARE and its ecosystem. Specifically, we first characterize CULPRITWARE by categorizing and comparing them with benign apps and malware. The result shows that CULPRITWARE have unique features, e.g., the usage of app generators (25.27%) deviates from that of benign apps (5.08%) and malware (0.43%). Such a discrepancy can be used to distinguish CULPRITWARE from benign apps and malware. Then we understand the structure of the ecosystem by revealing the four participating entities (i.e., developer, agent, operator and reaper) and the workflow. After that, we further reveal the characteristics of the ecosystem by studying the participating entities. Our investigation shows that the majority of CULPRITWARE (at least 52.08%) are propagated through social media rather than the official app markets, and most CULPRITWARE (96%) indirectly rely on the covert fourth-party payment services to transfer the profits. Our findings shed light on the ecosystem, and can facilitate the community and law enforcement authorities to mitigate the threats. We will release the source code of our tools to engage the community.

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