Taming the android AppStore: Lightweight characterization of Android applications

Vigneri, Luigi; Chandrashekar, Jaideep; Pefkianakis, Ioannis; Heen, Olivier
Research Report RR-15-305 / Also on ArXiv

There are over 1.2 million applications on the Google Play store today with a large number of competing applications for any given use or function. This creates challenges for users in selecting the right application. Moreover, some of the applications being of dubious origin, there are no mechanisms for users to understand who the applications are talking to, and to what extent. In our work, we first develop a lightweight characterization methodology that can automatically extract descriptions of application network behavior, and apply this to a large selection of applications from the Google App Store. We find several instances of overly aggressive communication with tracking websites, of excessive communication with ad related sites, and of communication with sites previously associated with malware activity. Our results underscore the need for a tool to provide users more visibility into the communication of apps installed on their mobile devices. To this end, we develop an Android application to do just this; our application monitors outgoing traffic, associates it with particular applications, and then identifies destinations in particular categories that we believe suspicious or else important to reveal to the end-user. 

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