Android Malware Detection using Deep Learning on API Method Sequences

Android Malware Detection using Deep Learning on API Method Sequences

ElMouatez Billah Karbab, Mourad Debbabi, Abdelouahid Derhab, Djedjiga Mouheb Concordia University, Concordia University, King Saud University, University of Sharjah

Android OS experiences a blazing popularity since the last few years. This predominant platform has established itself not only in the mobile world but also in the Internet of Things (IoT) devices. This popularity, however, comes at the expense of security, as it has become a tempting target of malicious apps. Hence, there is an increasing need for sophisticated, automatic, and portable malware detection solutions. In this paper, we propose MalDozer, an automatic Android malware detection and family attribution framework that relies on sequences classification using deep learning techniques. Starting from the raw sequence of the app’s API method calls, MalDozer automatically extracts and learns the malicious and the benign patterns from the actual samples to detect Android malware. MalDozer can serve as a ubiquitous malware detection system that is not only deployed on servers, but also on mobile and even IoT devices. We evaluate MalDozer on multiple Android malware datasets ranging from K to K malware apps, and K benign apps. The results show that MalDozer can correctly detect malware and attribute them to their actual families with an F1-Score of and a false positive rate of , under all tested datasets and settings.

Mobile, Android, Malware, IoT, Deep Learning

1 Introduction

Mobile apps have become an inherent part of our everyday life since many of the services are provided to us through mobile apps. The latter change the way we communicate, as they are installed in most cases on smart devices. In contrast to personal computers, smart devices are equipped with sophisticated sensors, from cameras and microphones to gyroscopes and GPS delmastro2016people (). These various sensors open a whole new world of applications for end-users delmastro2016people (), and generate huge amounts of data, which contain highly sensitive information. Consequently, this raises the need for security solutions to protect users from malicious apps, which exploit the sophistication of the smart devices and their sensitive data. On the other hand, the Internet of Things (IoT) smart systems have become equally, if not more, important than the mobile ones: (i) IoT systems are not only installed on conventional devices such as phones but are also considered in critical systems such as industrial IoT devices Gilchrist:2016:III:2994178 ()Yan:2008:ITR:1796470 (). (ii) According to Ericsson Ericsson2016 (), the number of IoT devices is expected to surpass the number of mobile devices by 2018 and could reach 16 billion by 2021. In this setting, security solutions should defend against malicious apps targeting both mobile and IoT devices. Android OS is phenomenally growing by powering a vast spectrum of smart devices. It has the biggest share in the mobile computing industry with in 2017-Q1 Smartphone2016 () due to its open-source distribution and sophistication. Besides, it has become not only the dominant platform for mobile phones and tablets but is also gaining increasing attention and penetration in the IoT realm Android2016 (),IoT2016 (),rasp_3_iot (). In this context, Google has launched Android Things brillokey (), an Android OS for IoT devices, where developers benefit from the mature Android stack to develop IoT apps targeting thin devices android_auto (), brillokey (), android_wear (), rasp_2_iot (). Therefore, protecting Android devices from malicious apps is of parmount importance.

Problem Statement

To address the above challenges, there is a clear need for a solution that defends against malicious apps in mobile and IoT devices with specific requirements to overcome the limitations of existing Android malware detection systems. First, the Android malware detection system should ensure a high accuracy with minimum false alarms. Second, it should be able to operate at different deployment scales: (i) Server machines, (ii) Personal machines, (iii) Smartphones and tablets, and (iv) IoT devices. Third, detecting that a given app is malicious may not be enough, as more information about the threat is needed to prioritize the mitigation actions. The type of attack could be crucial to prevent the intended damage. Therefore, it is essential to have a solution that goes a step further and attributes the malware to a specific family, which defines the potential threat that our system is exposed to. Finally, it is necessary to minimize manual human intervention to the largest extent and make the detection dependent mainly on the app sample for automatic feature extraction and pattern recognition. As malicious apps are quickly getting stealthier, the security analyst should be able to catch up with this pace. This is due to the fact that for every new malware family, a manual analysis of the samples is required to identify its pattern and features that distinguish it from benign apps.


In this paper, we propose MalDozer, a simple, yet effective and efficient framework for Android malware detection based on sequences mining using neural networks. MalDozer framework is based on an artificial neural network that takes, as input, the raw sequences of API method calls, as they appears in the DEX file, to enable malware detection and family attribution. During the training, MalDozer can automatically recognize malicious patterns using only the sequences of raw method calls in the assembly code. MalDozer achieves a high accuracy in malware detection under multiple datasets, including Malgenome malgenome_dataset () (K samples), Drebin Drebin_Dataset () (K samples), our MalDozer dataset (K samples), and a merged dataset of K malware samples. Additionally, K benign apps downloaded from Google Play google_play () are also used in the evaluation. MalDozer achieves an F1-score between and in the detection task. Furthermore, using the same datasets, MalDozer can correctly attribute the Android malware to the actual family with an F1-score between and in the family attribution task. MalDozer is both effective and also efficient. We evaluate the efficiency of MalDozer under multiple deployment architectures, ranging from high-end servers to very small IoT devices rasp_2_iot (). The results of our evaluation confirm that MalDozer can efficiently run on all these devices. The key idea of MalDozer relies on using neural networks on the API assembly method invocations to identify Android malware. More precisely, the input of MalDozer is the sequences of the API method calls as they appear in the DEX file, where a sequence represents the Android app. First, we map each method in the sequence invocation to a fixed length high-dimensional vector that semantically represents the method invocation Mikolov2013Distributed () and replace the sequence of the Android app methods by a sequence of vectors. Afterward, we feed the sequence of vectors to a neural network with multiple layers. In this paper, we make the following contributions:

  • MalDozer, a novel, effective, and efficient Android malware detection framework using the raw sequences of API method calls based on neural networks. We take a step beyond malware detection by attributing the detected Android malware to its family with a high accuracy.

  • We propose an automatic feature extraction technique during the training using method embedding, where the input is the raw sequence of API method calls, extracted from DEX assembly.

  • We conduct an extensive evaluation on different data- sets real Android malware and benign apps. The results demonstrate that MalDozer is very efficient and effective. It is also resilient against API evolution over time and against changing the order of API method calls. Additionally, MalDozer could be deployed and run properly, at various scales.

2 Background

In this section, we provide the necessary background that is relevant to our framework. We start by defining the cornerstone of MalDozer, namely neural network, and why it is interesting in the context of Android malware detection (Section 2.1). Afterward, we present the threat model as well as the assumptions considered in MalDozer design (Section 2.2). Next, we enumerate the main use cases of MalDozer framework (Section 2.3).

2.1 Deep Learning and Neural Network

A neural network is a machine learning computation model, which relies on a large number of neural units. The latter are approximate abstractions of the brain neurons, which could solve a very complex problem using highly dense neurons connected to each other by axons. Typically, Artificial Neuron Network (ANN) is composed of multiple layers, where each layer has many artificial neurons. The first layer is the input layer, and the last layer is the output one. The rest of the layers are called hidden layers. Notice that the neurons in each layer are connected to layer , but the connection method could differ from a model to another. To this end, in the deep learning terminology, a neural network consists of multiple hidden layers, i.e., the more layers there are, the deeper the neural network is. The conventional machine learning methods are limited by the manually-crafted features from the raw data. Here, the security expert analyzes the malicious apps and extracts the relevant features. The latter will be fed to a classifier to produce a learning model. The main advantage of a neural network is that it could automatically learn the representation (features) from the raw data to perform the detection task. In this paper, we aim at taking a step further towards Android malware detection with automatic representation learning. To achieve this aim, we leverage deep learning techniques and only consider the raw API method calls from Android DEX files for the purpose of malware detection and attribution with automatic feature extraction.

2.2 Threat Model and Assumptions

We position MalDozer as an anti-malware system that detects Android malware and attributes it to a known family with a high accuracy and minimal false positive and negative rates. We assume that the analyzed Android apps, whether malicious or benign, are developed mainly in Java or any other language that is translated to DEX bytecode. Therefore, Android apps developed by other means, e.g., web-based, are out of the scope of the current design of MalDozer. Also, we assume that apps’ core functionalities are in the DEX bytecode and not in C/C++ native code android_ndk (), i.e., the attacker is mainly using the DEX bytecode for the malicious payload. Furthermore, we assume that MalDozer detection results could not be affected by malicious activities. In the case of a server, Android malicious apps have no effect on the server system. However, in the case of deployment on infected mobiles or IoT devices, MalDozer should be protected from malicious activities to avoid tampering its results.

2.3 Usage Scenarios

The effectiveness of MalDozer, i.e., its high accuracy, makes it a suitable choice for malware detection in large-scale app store systems, especially that its update only requires very minimal manual intervention. We only need to train MalDozer model on new samples without a feature engineering, since MalDozer can automatically extract and learn the malicious and benign features during the training. Notice that MalDozer could detect unknown malware based on our evaluation as presented in Section 7. Furthermore, due to the efficiency of MalDozer, it could be deployed on mobile devices such as phones and tablets. As for mobile devices, MalDozer acts as a detection component in the anti-malware system, where the goal is to scan new apps. The family attribution is very handy when detecting new malware apps. Indeed, MalDozer helps the anti-malware system to take the necessary precautions and actions based on the malware family, which could have some specific malicious threats such as ransomware. It is also important to mention that we were able to run MalDozer on resource-limited IoT devices considered by Android Things such as Raspberry PI rasp_2_iot ().

2.4 Android Architecture

Android has been settled by the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) team, maintained by Google and supported by the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) oha_handset (). It encompasses the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), chip-makers, carriers and application developers. Android apps are written in Java. However, the native code and shared libraries are generally developed in C/C++ android_ndk (). The current Android architecture android_arch () consists of a Linux kernel, which is designed for an embedded environment consisting of limited resources. On top of the Linux kernel, there is a Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL), which provides standard interfaces that expose device hardware capabilities to the higher-level Java API framework, by allowing programmers to create software hooks between the Android platform stack and the hardware. There is also Android Runtime (ART), which is an application runtime environment used by the Android OS. It replaced Dalvik starting from Android 5.0. ART translates the app’s bytecode into native instructions that are later executed by the device’s runtime environment. ART introduces the ahead-of-time (AOT) compilation feature, which allows compiling entire applications into native machine code upon their installation. The native libraries developed in C/C++ support high-performance third-party reusable shared libraries. The Java API Framework provides APIs form the building blocks the user need to create Android apps. The System Apps, are the apps hat are included within the system, and are required to make the device run.

2.4.1 Android APK Format

Android Application Package (APK) is the file format adopted by Android for apps distribution and installation. It comes as a ZIP archive file, which contains all the components needed to run the app. By analogy, APK files are similar to Windows EXE installation files or Linux RPM/DEB files. The APK package is organized into different directories (namely lib, res, and assets) and files (namely AndroidManifest.xml and classes.dex). More precisely, i) The AndroidManifest.xml file contains the app meta-data, e.g., name, version, required permissions, and used libraries. ii) The classes.dex file contains the compiled Java classes. iii) The lib directory stores C/C++ native libraries android_ndk (). iv) The resources directory (res) contains the non-source code files, such as video, image, and audio files, which are packaged during compilation.

3 Methodology

In this section, we present MalDozer framework and its components (Figure 1). MalDozer has a simple design, where a minimalistic preprocessing is employed to get the assembly methods. As for the feature extraction (representation learning) and detection/attribution, they are based on the actual neural network. This permits MalDozer to be very efficient with fast preprocessing and neural network execution. Since MalDozer is based on a supervised machine learning, we first need to train our model. Afterward, we deploy this model along with a preprocessing procedure on the targeted devices. Notice that the preprocessing procedure is common between the training and the deployment phases to ensure the correctness of the detection results (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Approach Overview
1- Extraction of API Method Calls

MalDozer workflow starts by extracting the sequences of API calls from Android app packages, in which we consider only the DEX file. We disassemble the classes.dex to produce the Dalvik VM assembly. Our goal is to formalize the assembly to keep the maximum raw information with minimum noise. Notice here that we could use Android APIs (such as android/net/ConnectivityManager in Figure 2) instead of permission to have a granular view that helps distinguishing a malware app.

android/net/ConnectivityManager android/net/ConnectivityManager android/telephony/SmsManager android/telephony/SmsManager android/location/LocationManager android/location/LocationManager

Figure 2: Android API from a Malware Sample

However, quantifying Android API could be noisy because there are plenty of common API calls shared between apps. Some solutions tend to filter only dangerous APIs and use them for detection. In this case, we require a manual categorization of dangerous APIs. Moreover, Android API gives an abstract view of the actual malicious activity that could deceive the malware detection. For this reason, we leverage Android API method calls as android/net/ConnectivityManager;-> getNetworkInfo in Figure 3. By doing so, the malware detector will have a more granular view of the app activity. In our case, we address this problem from another angle; we treat Android apps as a sequence of API method calls. We consider all the API calls with no filtering, where the order is part of the information we use to identify malware. It represents the temporal relationship between two API method calls (in a given basic block), and defines the intended sub-tasks of the app. The sequence of API method calls preserves the temporal relationship over individual basic blocks of the linear disassembly and ignores the order between these blocks. The obtained result is a merged sequence (Figure 1).

android/net/ConnectivityManager;->getNetworkInfo android/net/ConnectivityManager;->getAllNetworkInfo android/telephony/SmsManager;->sendTextMessage android/telephony/SmsManager;->sendMultipartTextMessage android/location/LocationManager;->getLastKnownLocation android/location/LocationManager;->getBestProvider

Figure 3: Granular View using API Method Calls

In other words, a DEX file, denoted by , is composed of a set of compiled Java classes, . Each Java class is, in turn, composed of a set of methods, which are basic blocks, . By going down to the API method level, is a sequence of API method calls, Formally , where is the l API method call in method .

Input : : Java Assembly
Output : : Methods Sequence
        = EmptyList();
        foreach  do
               foreach  do
                      foreach  do
                      end foreach
               end foreach
        end foreach
       return ;
Algorithm 1 Extraction
2- Discretization of API Method Calls

In this step, we discretize the sequences of API method calls that are in an Android app (Algorithm 2). More precisely, we replace each API method with an identifier, resulting in a sequence of numbers. We also build a dictionary that maps each API call to its identifier. Notice that in the current implementation, the mapping dictionary is deployed with the learning model to map the API calls of the analyzed apps. In the deployment, we could find unknown API calls related to third party libraries. To overcome this problem: (i) We consider a big dataset that covers most of the API calls. (ii) In the deployment phase, we replace unknown API calls with fixed identifiers. Afterward, we unify the length of the sequences (hyperparameter) and pad a given sequence with zeros if its length .

Input : : Methods Sequence
: Mapping Dict
Output : : Discrete Sequence
        = EmptyList();
        foreach  do
               if  then
               end if
        end foreach
       return ;
Algorithm 2 Discretization
3- Unification of the Sequences’ Size

The length of the sequences varies from one app to another. Hence, it is important to unify the length of the sequences. There are two cases depending on the length of the sequence and the hyper-parameter. We choose a uniform sequence size as follows: i) If the length of a given sequence is greater than the uniform sequence size , we take only the first items to represent the apps. ii) In case the length of the sequence is less than , we pad the sequence with zeros. It is important to mention that the uniform sequence size hyper-parameter has an influence on the accuracy of MalDozer. A simple rule is that the larger is the size, the better is, but this will require a lot of computation power and a long time to train the neural network.

3- Generation of the Semantic Vectors.

The identifier in the sequences needs to be shaped to fit as input to our neural network. This could be solved by representing each identifier by a vector. The question that arises is how are such vectors produced? A straightforward solution is to use one-hot vectors, where a vector has one in the interface value row, and zero in the rest. Such a vector is very sparse because its size is equal to the number of API calls, which makes it impractically and computationally prohibitive for the training and the deployment. To address this issue, we resort to a dense vector that uses a continuous space. These vectors are semantically related, and we could express their relation by computing a distance. The smaller the distance is, the more related the vectors are (i.e., the API calls). We describe word embedding in Section 4. The output of this step is sequences of vectors for each app that keeps the order of the original API calls; each vector has a fixed size (hyper-parameter).

4- Prediction using a Neural Network

The final component in MalDozer framework is the neural network, which is composed of several layers. The number of layers and the complexity of the model are hyper-parameters. However, we aim to keep the neural network model as simple as possible to gain in the execution time during its deployment, especially on IoT devices. In our design, we rely on the convolution layers Kim2014Convolutional () to automatically discover the pattern in the raw method calls. The input to the neural network is a sequence of vectors, i.e., a matrix of shape. In the training phase, we train the neural network parameters (layers weight) based on the app vector sequence and its labels: (i) malware or benign for the detection task, and (ii) malware families for the attribution task. In the deployment phase, we extract the sequence of methods and use the embedding model to produce the vector sequence. Finally, the neural network takes the vector sequence to decide about the given Android app.

4 MalDozer Method Embedding

The neural network takes vectors as input. Therefore, we represent our Android API method calls as vectors. As a result, we formalize an Android app as a sequence of vectors with fixed size (). We could use one-hot vector. However, its size is the number of unique API method calls in our dataset. This makes such a solution not scalable to large-scale training. Also, the word embedding technique outperforms the results of the one-hot vector technique in our case Mikolov2013Distributed (), Pennington201GloVe (), Kim2014Convolutional (). Therefore, we seek a compact vector, which also has a semantic value. To fulfill these requirements, we choose the word embedding techniques, namely, word2vec Mikolov2013Distributed () and GloVe Pennington201GloVe (). Our primary goal is to have a dense vector for each Android API method that keeps track of its contexts in a large dataset of Android apps. Thus, in contrast with one-hot vectors, each word embedding vector contains a numerical summary of the Android API call meaning representation. Moreover, we could apply geometric techniques on the API call vectors to measure the semantic relationship between their functionalities, i.e., developers tend to use certain API method calls in the same context. In our context, we learn these vectors from our dataset that contains benign and malicious apps by using word2vec Mikolov2013Distributed (). The latter is a computationally efficient predictive model from learning word embedding vectors, which are applied on the raw Android API method calls. The output obtained from training the embedding word model is a matrix , where is the size of the embedding vector, and is the number of unique Android API method calls. Both and are hyper-parameters; we use in all our models. In contrast, the hyper-parameter is a major factor in the accuracy of MalDozer. The more API calls we consider, the more accurate and robust our model is. Notice that, our word embedding is trained along with the neural network, where we tune both of them for a given task such as detection. Despite that, it can be trained separately to generate the embedding word vector independently of the detection task. In the deployment phase (Figure 1), MalDozer uses the word embedding model and looks up for each API method call identifier to find the corresponding embedding vector .

Figure 4: Neural Network Architecture

5 MalDozer Neural Network

MalDozer neural network is inspired by Kim2014Convolutional (), where the authors use a neural network for sentence classification task such as sentiment analysis. The proposed architecture shows high results and outperforms many of state-of-the-art benchmarks with a relatively simple neural network design. Here, we raise the following questions: Why could such a Natural Language Processing (NLP) model be useful in Android malware detection? And why do we choose to build it on top of this design Kim2014Convolutional ()? We formulate our answers as follows: i) NLP is a challenging field where we deal with text. So, there is an enormous number of vocabularies; also we could express the same meaning in different ways. We also have the same semantics with many combinations of words, which we call the natural language obfuscation. In our context, we deal with sequences of Android API method calls and want to find the combination of patterns of method calls, which produces the same (malicious) activity. We use the API method calls as they appear in the binary, i.e., there is a temporal relationship between API methods in basic blocks but we ignore the order among these blocks. By analogy to NLP, the basic blocks are the sentences and the API method calls are the words. Further, the app (paragraph) is a list of basic blocks (unordered sentences). This task looks easier compared to the NLP one because of the huge difference in the vocabulary, i.e., the number of Android API method calls is significantly less than the number of words in natural language. Also, the combination in the NLP is much complex compared to Android API calls. ii) We choose to use this model due to its efficiency and ability to run our model on resource-constrained devices. Table 1 depicts the neural network architecture of MalDozer’s detection and attribution tasks. Both networks are very similar; the only notable difference is in the output layer. In the detection task, we need only one neuron in the output layer because the network decides whether the app is malware or not. As for the attribution task, there are multiple neurons, one for each Android malware family. Having the same architecture for the detection and attribution makes the development and the evaluation of a given design more simple. Because the network architecture achieves good results in one task, it will have very similar results in the other one. As presented in Figure 4, the first layer is a convolution layer Kim2014Convolutional () with rectified linear unit (ReLU) activation function (). Afterward, we use global max pool Kim2014Convolutional () and connect it to a fully-connected layer. Notice that in addition to Dropout Goodfellow-et-al-2016 () used to prevent overfitting, we also utilize Benchnormalization Goodfellow-et-al-2016 () to improve our results. Finally, we have an output layer, where the number of neurons depends on the detection or attribution tasks.

l # Layers Options Activ 1 Convolution Filter=512, FilterSize=3 ReLU 2 MaxPooling / / 3 FC #Neurons=256, Dropout=0.5 ReLU 4 FC #Neurons={1,#Families1 } Softmax

  • The number of malware families in the training dataset.

Table 1: MalDozer Malware Neural Network
Server (1/2) Laptop Raspberry PI 2
GPU TITAN X / no no no
CPU Intel E5-2630 Intel T6400 ARM Cortex A7
Table 2: Hardware Specifications

6 Implementation

In this section, we present the software & hardware components of MalDozer evaluation.


We implement MalDozer using Python and Bash scripting languages. First, Python zip library extracts the DEX file from the APK file. We use dexdump command-line to produce the assembly from the DEX file. Dexdump is available through the Android SDK, but in the case of Raspberry PI, we built it from its source code. Regular expressions are employed to extract API method calls from the assembly. To develop the neural network, we use Tensorflow tensorflow (). Notice that there is no optimization in the preprocessing; in the run-time evaluation, we use only a single thread app.


To evaluate the efficiency of MalDozer, we evaluate multiple types of hardware, as shown in Table 2, starting from servers to Raspberry PI rasp_2_iot (). For training, the Graphic Processing Unit (GPU) is a vital component because the neural network training needs immense computational power. The training takes hours under NVIDIA TitanX. However, the deployment could be virtually on any device including IoT devices. To this end, we consider Raspberry PI as IoT device because it is one of the hardware platforms supported by Android Things brillokey (). We also use low-end laptops in our evaluation, as shown in Table 2.

7 Evaluation

In this section, we conduct our‘ evaluation using different datasets that primarily cover the following performance aspects:

  • (I) Detection Performance: We evaluate how effectively MalDozer can distinguish between malicious and benign apps in terms of F1-measure, precision, recall, and false positive rate.

  • (II) Attribution Performance: We evaluate how effectively MalDozer can correctly attribute a given malicious app to its malware family.

  • (III) Runtime Performance: We measure the preprocessing and the detection runtime on different types of hardware.

7.1 Evaluation Metrics

The evaluation results are presented under the following metrics:

  • True positives (TP): This metric measures the number of malicious apps that are successfully detected.

  • False negatives (FN): This metric measures the number of malicious apps that are incorrectly classified.

  • False positives (FP): This metric measures the number of benign apps that are incorrectly classified.

  • Precision (P): It is the percentage of positive prediction, i.e., the percentage of the detected malware out of all sample apps. Formally,

  • Recall (R): It is the percentage of correct malicious apps detected out of all malware samples. Formally,

  • F1-Score (F1): It is a measure that considers precision and recall. Formally, .

We also measure False Positive Rate (FPR), False Negative Rate (FNR) and Accuracy (ACC), which are given as follows:

7.2 Datasets

In our evaluation, we have two main tasks: i) Detection, which aims at checking if a given app is malware or not, ii) Attribution, which aims at determining the family of the detected malware. We conduct the evaluation experiments under two types of datasets: i) Mixed dataset, which contains malicious apps and benign apps, as presented in Table 3. ii) Malware dataset, which contains only malware, as shown in Table 4. As for the malware dataset, we leverage reference datasets such as Malgenome malgenome_dataset () and Drebin arp2014drebin (). We also collect two other datasets from different sources, e.g.,, Contagio Minidump contagiominidump (). The total number of malware samples is , including Malgenome and Drebin datasets. As for the attribution task, we use only malware from the previous datasets, where each family has at least 40 samples, as presented in Tables 13, 14, 15. To this end, we propose MalDozer dataset, as in Table 13, which contains 20K malware samples from 32 malware families. We envision to make MalDozer dataset available upon request for the research community. The benign app samples have been collected from Playdrone dataset playdrone (). We leverage the top apps that are ranked by the number of downloads.

Dataset #Malware #Benign Total
Malgenome 1,258 37,627 38.885
Drebin 5,555 37,627 43,182
MalDozer 20,089 37,627 57,716
All 33,066 37,627 70,693
Table 3: Datasets for Detection Task
Dataset #Malware #Family
Malgenome 985 9
Drebin 4,661 20
MalDozer 20,089 32
Table 4: Datasets for Attribution Task

7.3 Malware Detection Performance

We evaluate MalDozer on different cross-validation settings, two, three, five and ten-fold, to examine the detection performance under different training/test set percentages () from the actual dataset ( training epochs). Table 5 depicts the detection results on Malgenome dataset. MalDozer achieves excellent results, F1-Score=, with a small False Positive Rate (FPR), , despite the unbalanced dataset, where benign app samples are the most dominant in the dataset. The detection results are similar under all cross-validation settings. Table 6 presents the detection results on Drebin dataset, which are very similar to the Malgenome ones. MalDozer reaches F1-Score=, with FPR=. Similar detection results are shown in Table 7 on MalDozer dataset ( F1-Score= and FPR=). Table 8 shows the results related to all datasets, where MalDozer achieves a good result (F1-Score=). However, it has a higher false positive rate compared to the previous results (FPR=). This leads us to manually investigate the false postives. We discover, by correlating with, that several false positive apps are already detected by many vendors as malware.

F1% P% R% FPR%
2-Fold 99.6600 99.6620 99.6656 0.06
3-Fold 98.1926 98.6673 97.9812 1.97
5-Fold 99.8044 99.8042 99.8045 0.09
10-Fold 99.8482 99.8474 99.8482 0.04
Table 5: Detection on Malgenome Dataset
F1% P% R% FPR%
2-Fold 98.8834 98.9015 98.9000 0.13
3-Fold 99.0142 99.0130 99.01579 0.51
5-Fold 99.1174 99.1173 99.1223 0.31
10-Fold 99.2173 99.2173 99.2172 0.45
Table 6: Detection on Drebin Dataset
F1% P% R% FPR%
2-Fold 96.8576 96.9079 96.8778 1.01
3-Fold 97.6229 97.6260 97.6211 2.00
5-Fold 97.7804 97.7964 97.7753 2.25
10-Fold 98.1875 98.1876 98.1894 1.15
Table 7: Detection on MalDozer Dataset
F1% P% R% FPR%
2-Fold 96.0708 96.0962 96.0745 2.53
3-Fold 95.0252 95.0252 95.0278 4.01
5-Fold 96.3326 96.3434 96.3348 2.67
10-Fold 96.2958 96.2969 96.2966 3.19
Table 8: Detection on All Dataset
(a) BaseBridge
(b) DrKungFu
(c) FakeInst
(d) GinMaster
(e) Opfake
(f) Plankton
Figure 5: Evaluation of Unknown Malware Detection

7.3.1 Unknown Malware Detection

Although MalDozer demonstrates very good detection results, some questions still arise: (i) Can MalDozer detect samples of unknown malware families? And (ii) How many samples are needed for a given family to achieve a good accuracy? To answer these questions, we conduct the following experiment on Drebin mixed dataset (Malware + Benign), where we focus on top malware families (i.e., BaseBridge, DroidKungFu, FakeInstaller, GinMaster, Opfake, Plankton). For each family, we train ( epochs) our model on a subset dataset, which does not include samples of that family. These samples are used as a test set. Afterward, we train with few samples from the family and evaluate the model on the rest of them. Progressively, we add more samples to the training and assess the accuracy of our model on detecting the rest of the family samples. Answering the above questions: (i) Can MalDozer detect unknown malware family samples? Yes, Figure 5 shows the accuracy versus the number of samples in the training dataset. We see that MalDozer (zero sample vs. accuracy) could detect the unknown malware family sample without previous training. The accuracy varies from to . (ii) How many samples for a given family to achieve a good accuracy? MalDozer needs only about to samples to reach (Figure 5). In the case of DroidKungFu, MalDozer needs samples to reach . Considering to samples from a malware family is relatively a small number to get high results.

7.3.2 Resiliency Against API Evolution over Time

As we have seen in the previous section, MalDozer could detect new malware samples from unknown families using samples from Drebin dataset collected in the period of 2011/2012. In this section, we aim to answer the following quastion: Can MalDozer detect malicious and bengin apps collected in different years?To answer this question, we evalute MalDozer on four datasets collected from DBLP:conf/msr/AllixBKT16 () of four consecutive years: 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016, as shown in Table 9, where, we train MalDozer in one year dataset and test it on the rest of the datasets. The results show that MalDozer detection is more resilient to API evolution over time compare to mariconti2017mamadroid (), as presented in Figure 6. Starting with 2013 dataset (Figure 6(a)), we train MalDozer on 2013 samples and evaluate it on 2014, 2015, and 2016 ones. We notice a high detection rate in 2014 dataset since it is collected in the consecutive year of the training datset. However, the detection rate decreases in 2015 and 2016 datasets but it is above an acceptable detection rate (F1-Score=70%). Similarly, we obtained the results of 2014 dataset, as depicted in Figure 6(b). Also, training MalDozer on 2015 or 2016 datasets exhibits very good results under all the datasets collected in other years, where we reach F1-Score=90-92.5%.

(a) 2013 Dataset
(b) 2014 Dataset
(c) 2015 Dataset
(d) 2016 Dataset
Figure 6: Detection vs Time
Figure 7: Shuffle Rate vs F1-Score
Dataset 2013 2014 2015 2016
#Malware 10k 10k 10k 10k
#Bengin 10k 10k 10k 10k
Table 9: Datasets for API Evolution Over Time Resiliency

7.3.3 Resiliency against changing the order of API methods

In this section, we evaluate the robustness of MalDozer against changing in the order of API method calls. The latter could change for various reasons, for example: (i) We could use different dissassembly tools in the production, (ii) A malware developer could repackage the same malicious app multiple times. The previous scenarios could lead to losing the temporal relations among the API calls. In case of the malware developer, he/she will be limited by keeping the same malicious semantics in the app. To validate the robustness of MalDozer against such methods order, we conduct the following experiment. First, we train our model on the training dataset. Afterward, we randomly shuffle the sequence of API method calls in the test dataset. We divide the testing app sequence into blocks, then shuffle them and evaluate the F1-Score. We repeat until N is equal to the number of sequences, i.e., one API call in each block. The result of this experiment is shown in Figure 7. The latter depicts the F1-Score versus the number of blocks, starting with four blocks and ending with 15K blocks, where each block contains one API call. Figure 7 demonstrates the resiliency of MalDozer against changing the order of API method calls. We observe that even with completely random individual API method calls, MalDozer achieves 93%.

7.4 Family Attribution Performance

Family attribution is an important task for Android security, where MalDozer distinguishes itself from the existing malware detection solutions, since only few solutions provide this functionality. Starting with Malgenome dataset, MalDozer achieves a very good result, i.e., F1-Score of . Similarly, MalDozer reaches an F1-Score of on Drebin dataset. The results per malware family attribution performance for Malgnome and Drebin are presented in Tables 14 and 15. MalDozer achieves good results in the case of MalDozer dataset, F1-Score of . Our interpretation of this result comes from Tables 13, 14 and 15, which depict the detailed results per malware family. For example, the family agent unveils poor results because of the misslabeling, since agent is a common name for many Android malware families. We believe that there is a lot of noise in the family labeling of the MalDozer dataset since we leverage only one security vendor for labeling. Despite this fact, MalDozer demonstrates acceptable results and robustness (Appendix Figure 13).

F1% P% R%
2-Fold 98.9834 99.0009 98.9847
3-Fold 98.9910 99.0026 98.9847
5-Fold 99.0907 99.1032 99.0862
10-Fold 99.1873 99.1873 99.1878
Table 10: Attribution on Malgenome
F1% P% R%
2-Fold 98.1192 98.1401 98.1334
3-Fold 98.6882 98.6998 98.6912
5-Fold 98.5824 98.5961 98.5839
10-Fold 98.5198 98.5295 98.5196
Table 11: Attribution on Drebin
F1% P% R%
2-Fold 89.3331 89.5044 89.3424
3-Fold 81.8742 82.7565 81.8109
5-Fold 83.8518 84.1360 84.0061
10-Fold 85.5233 85.6184 85.8479
Table 12: Attribution on MalDozer
Malware Family #Sample F1-Score
01 FakeInst 4822 96.15%
02 Dowgin 2248 84.24%
03 SmsPay 1544 81.61%
04 Adwo 1495 87.79%
05 SMSSend 1088 81.48%
06 Wapsx 833 78.85%
07 Plankton 817 94.18%
08 Agent 778 51.45%
09 SMSReg 687 80.61%
10 GingerMaster 533 76.39%
11 Kuguo 448 78.28%
12 HiddenAds 426 84.20%
13 Utchi 397 93.99%
14 Youmi 355 72.39%
15 Iop 344 93.09%
16 BaseBridge 341 90.50%
17 DroidKungFu 314 85.85%
18 SmsSpy 279 85.05%
19 FakeApp 278 93.99%
20 InfoStealer 253 82.82%
21 Kmin 222 91.03%
22 HiddenApp 214 76.71%
23 AppQuanta 202 99.26%
24 Dropper 195 77.11%
25 MobilePay 144 78.74%
26 FakeDoc 140 96.38%
27 Mseg 138 55.38%
28 SMSKey 130 81.03%
29 RATC 111 84.81%
30 Geinimi 106 95.58%
31 DDLight 104 90.55%
32 GingerBreak 103 84.87%
Table 13: MalDozer Android Malware Dataset
Malware Family #Sample F1-Score
01 DroidKungFu3 309 99.83%
02 AnserverBot 187 99.19%
03 BaseBridge 121 98.37%
04 DroidKungFu4 96 99.88%
05 Geinimi 69 97.81%
06 Pjapps 58 95.65%
07 KMin 52 99.99%
08 GoldDream 47 99.96%
09 DroidDreamLight 46 99.99%
Table 14: Malgenome Attribution Dataset
Malware Family #Sample F1-Score
01 FakeInstaller 925 99.51%
02 DroidKungFu 666 98.79%
03 Plankton 625 99.11%
04 Opfake 613 99.34%
05 GinMaster 339 97.92%
06 BaseBridge 329 97.56%
07 Iconosys 152 99.02%
08 Kmin 147 99.31%
09 FakeDoc 132 99.24%
10 Geinimi 92 97.26%
11 Adrd 91 96.13%
12 DroidDream 81 98.13%
13 Glodream 69 90.14%
14 MobileTx 69 91.97%
15 ExploitLinuxLotoor 69 99.97%
16 FakeRun 61 95.16%
17 SendPay 59 99.14%
18 Gappusin 58 97.43%
19 Imlog 43 98.85%
20 SMSreg 41 92.30%
Table 15: Drebin Attribution Dataset

7.5 Run-Time Performance

In this section, we evaluate the efficiency of MalDozer, i.e., the runtime during the deployment phase. We divide the runtime into two parts: i) Preprocessing time: the required time to extract and preprocess the sequences of Android API method calls. ii) Detection time: time needed to make the prediction about a given sequence of API method calls. We analyze the detection time on the model complexity of different hardware. Figure 11(a) depicts the average preprocessing time along with its standard deviation, related to each hardware. The server machines and the laptop spend, on average, 1 second in the preprocessing time, which is very acceptable for production. Also, as mentioned previously, we do not optimize the current preprocessing workflow. In the IoT device rasp_2_iot (), the preprocessing takes, on average, about seconds, which is more than acceptable for such a small device. Figure 11(b) presents the detection time on average that is related to each hardware. First, it is noticeable that the standard deviation is very negligible, i.e., the detection time is constant for all apps. Also, the detection time is very low for all the devices. As for the IoT device, the detection time is only seconds. Therefore, the average time that MalDozer needs to decide for a given app is seconds on average in case of IoT device, as we know that the preprocessing takes most of the time (). Here, we ask the following two questions: (i) Which part in the preprocessing needs optimization? (ii) Does the preprocessing time depend on the size of APK or DEX file? To answer these questions, we randomly select 1K benign apps and 1K malware apps. We measure the preprocessing time and correlate it with the size of APK and DEX files. Figure 8 shows the experimentation results in the case of the IoT device rasp_2_iot (). The scattered charts depict the preprocessing time along with the size of the APK or DEX file for the mixed, only-benign, and only-malware datasets. From Figure 8, it is clear that the preprocessing time is linearly related to the size of the DEX file. We perform the same experiment on Server and Laptop, and we get very similar results, as shown in Figures 9 and 10. Finally, we notice that the size of benign apps tend to be bigger than the malicious apps. Thus, the preprocessing time of the benign apps is longer.

(a) Mixed APK
(b) Bengin APK
(c) Malware APK
(d) Mixed DEX
(e) Benign DEX
(f) Malware DEX
Figure 8: Preprocessing Time vs APK and DEX Sizes (IoT device)
(a) Mixed APK
(b) Bengin APK
(c) Malware APK
(d) Mixed Dex
(e) Bengin Dex
(f) Malware Dex
Figure 9: Preprocessing Time vs APK and Dex Sizes (Laptop)
(a) Mixed APK
(b) Bengin APK
(c) Malware APK
(d) Mixed Dex
(e) Bengin Dex
(f) Malware Dex
Figure 10: Preprocessing Time vs APK and Dex Sizes (Server)
(a) Preprocess
(b) Prediction
Figure 11: Run-Time vs. Hardware
#Params F1% Word2Vec Size
Model 01 6.6 Million 98.95 100k
Model 02 4.6 Million 95.84 70k
Model 03 3.4 Million 93.81 50k
Model 04 1.5 Million 90.08 20k
Table 16: Model Complexity vs Detection Performance
(a) Server GPU
(b) Server CPU
(c) Laptop
(d) IoT
Figure 12: Detection Time vs Model Complexity

7.5.1 Model Complexity Evaluation

In this section, we examine the effect of model complexity on the detection time. By model complexity, we mean the number of parameters in the model, as depicted in Table 16. Many hyper-parameters could influence the complex nature of the model, but we primarily consider the word2vec embedding size. The latter is very important for the detection of the model, especially if we have a big dataset. Table 16 demonstrates the complexity of the model versus the F1-Score. It is noticeable that the larger the number of parameters is, the more its performance increases. Based on our observation, bigger models are more accurate and more robust to changes, as will be discussed in Section 8. Finally, Figure 12 displays the execution time of the models in Table 16 on the IoT device. The detailed execution related to all the hardware is presented in Figure 12.

8 Discussion and Limitations

In this paper, we have explored a new approach to capture Android apps behaviors using neural networks on API method calls. This approach achieves highly accurate malware detection and family attribution. Our detection technique is sample-based, i.e., the system could automatically recognize patterns in the training phase of new malware as well as benign apps from raw sequences of API method calls. Therefore, this allows our system to catch up with the rapid evolution of Android OS and malicious techniques by training it on the raw sequence of API methods of new apps, which contain a lot of information about the app’s behaviors. Yet, this sequence is less affected by the obfuscation techniques. Furthermore, our work pushes toward portable detection solutions, i.e., the solution should be used in app stores, mobile or IoT devices. A portable solution is a step towards ubiquitous security that enhances small devices security. In this context, MalDozer could resist to certain obfuscation techniques because we only consider the API method calls. However, like all the detection schemes that are based on static analysis, MalDozer is not resilient against dynamic code loading and reflection obfuscation, where the app downloads a malicious code and executes it at runtime. Moreover, MalDozer does not consider native codes. Finally, MalDozer uses many hyper-parameters for its deep learning model. The impact of using a lower number on accuracy detection and running time performance can be the subject of further investigations in future work. This work could also be extended to study the effect of a larger number of API method calls on detection accuracy, training time, and detection time. Furthermore, we plan to extend MalDozer to support the processing of native codes. In this context, MalDozer could resist certain obfuscation techniques because we only consider the API call methods. However, MalDozer is not immune to obfuscation (inherited from static analysis drawbacks) such as the use of reflection/dynamic code execution, as well as, other obfuscation techniques that rely on native code and non-framework service calls.

9 Related work

The Android malware analysis techniques can be classified as: static analysis, dynamic analysis, or hybrid analysis. The static analysis methods arp2014drebin (), feng2014apposcopy (), yang2014apklancet (), mariconti2017mamadroid (), zhongyang2013droidalarm (), karbab2016cypider (), sanz2014anomaly (), karbab2016dna (), use static features that are extracted from the app, such as: requested permissions and APIs to detect malicious app. Some of these methods are generally not resistant to obfuscation. The dynamic analysis methods canfora2016acquiring (), karbab2016dysign (), spreitzenbarth2013mobile (), ali2016aspectdroid (),zhang2013vetting (), amos2013applying (), wei2012android (), huang2014asdroid () aim to identify behavioral signature or behavioral anomaly of the running app. These methods are more resistant to obfuscation. On the other hand, the dynamic methods offer limited scalability as they incur additional cost in terms of processing and memory. The hybrid analysis methods yuan2014droid (), grace2012riskranker (), bhandari2015draco (), vidas2014a5 (), lindorfer2014andrubis () combine between both analyses to improve detection accuracy, which costs additional computational cost. Assuming that malicious apps of the same family share similar features, some methods kim2015structural (), ali2015opseq (), deshotels2014droidlegacy (), zhou2012hey (), suarez2014dendroid (), kang2015detecting (), lin2013identifying (), faruki2015androsimilar (). measure the similarity between the features of two samples (similar malicious code). Some methods zhang2014semantics (), fan2016frequent (), meng2016semantic () employ semantics-aware features such as control-flow graphs christodorescu2005semantics (), data dependency graphs fredrikson2010synthesizing () and class dependence graphs deshotels2014droidlegacy (). The deep learning techniques are more suitable than conventional machine learning techniques for Android malware detection yuan2014droid (). Research work on deep learning for Android malare detection are recently getting more attention yuan2014droid (), yuan2016droiddetector (), hou2016deep4maldroid (), hou2016droiddelver (). Differently from the existing deep learning solutions, MalDozer offers many advantages: (i) MalDozer provide automatic feature engineering for new types of malware in the training phase. (ii) MalDozer uses a minimal proprocessing, which fits small devices deployment. (iii) In addition to its high detection performance, MalDozer is able to attribute malware to its actual family with similar performance.

9.1 MalDozer vs. MAMADroid

In this section, we highlight the differences between MalDozer and MAMADroid mariconti2017mamadroid (), a recent and competitive malware detection solution that combines semantics-aware static features and machine learning. MAMADroid uses the sequence of abstracted API calls to build a behavioral model in the form of a Markov chain. The latter is used to extract features and perform classification. We compare our framework with MAMADroid with respect to the following points: (1) Deployment: Due to its large memory requirements, MAMADroid can only be deployed on high-power servers. In contrast, the detection component of MalDozer can efficiently run under multiple deployment architectures, including high-power and low-power machines as well as mobile and IoT devices. (2) Design complexity: The design of MAMADroid is complex since its preprocessing phase is composed of many steps. MAMADroid first constructs a call graph using flow-analysis tools such as: Soot vallee1999soot () and FlowDroid arzt2014flowdroid (). Soot converts the DEX file into Jimple and FlowDroid is used for Taint analysis. Next, the constructed graph is used to generate the sequence of abstracted API calls, which are used to build a Markov chain. MalDozer, on the other hand, extracts the raw sequence of API method calls directly from the DEX file without any additional preprocessisng overhead. (3) Adaptation to new APIs: In MAMADroid, the release of new Android OS version with a new set of APIs implies that a manual intervention is needed to craft a new Markov model, and manually redefine the set of APIs to be fed to the classifier. MalDozer can automatically learn the new APIs directly from the DEX file, as they have a specific known format. (4)Approach performance: MAMADroid consumes a very large amount of memory (16GB of RAM) to extract the call graph from the app. Despite that, the graph extraction phase takes, in average, 25.4 seconds, and a maximum of 18 minutes. MalDozer is very lightweight. The average time to extract the features and classify the app in MalDozer is seconds on the most resource-constrained IoT device. (5)Ability to analyze apks: The Soot tool, used by MAMADroid, fails to process of the apps in the dataset of apps, which counts for more than apps. Such a failure does not happen in the case of MalDozer due to its simple preprocess. The above-discussed points clearly show the outperformance of MalDozer over MAMADroid.

10 Conclusion

We have presented MalDozer, an automatic, efficient and effective Android malware detection and attribution system. MalDozer relies on deep learning techniques and raw sequences of API method calls in order to identify Android malware. We have evaluated MalDozer on several small and large datasets, including Malgenome, Drebin, and our MalDozer dataset, in addition to a dataset of benign apps downloaded from Google Play. The evaluation results show that MalDozer is highly accurate in terms of malware detection as well as their attribution to corresponding families. Moreover, MalDozer can efficiently run under multiple deployment architectures, ranging from servers to small IoT devices. This work represents a step towards practical, automatic and effective Android malware detection and family attribution.


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Appendix A Confusion Matrices

2 Fold 3 Fold
AB2 37,604 23 AB 36,882 745
AM 107 1,151 AM 40 1,218
5 Fold 10 Fold
AB 37,591 36 AB 37,612 15
AM 40 1,218 AM 44 1,214
  • PB: Predicted Benign, PM: Predicted Malware

  • AB: Actual Benign, PM: Actual Malware

Table 17: Detailed Detection Result on Malgenome
2 Fold 3 Fold
AB2 37,578 49 AB 37,435 192
AM 426 5,129 AM 233 5,322
5 Fold 10 Fold
AB 37,509 118 AB 37,457 170
AM 261 5,294 AM 168 5,387
  • PB: Predicted Benign, PM: Predicted Malware

  • AB: Actual Benign, PM: Actual Malware

Table 18: Detailed Detection Result on Drebin
2 Fold 3 Fold
AB2 37,246 381 AB 36,872 755
AM 1,421 18,668 AM 618 19,471
5 Fold 10 Fold
AB 36,779 848 AB 37,193 434
AM 436 19,653 AM 611 19,478
  • PB: Predicted Benign, PM: Predicted Malware

  • AB: Actual Benign, PM: Actual Malware

Table 19: Detailed Detection Result on MalDozer
2 Fold 3 Fold
AB2 36,673 954 AB 36,118 1,509
AM 1,821 31,245 AM 2,006 31,060
5 Fold 10 Fold
AB 36,621 1,006 AB 36,426 1,201
AM 1,585 31,481 AM 1,417 31,649
  • PB: Predicted Benign, PM: Predicted Malware

  • AB: Actual Benign, PM: Actual Malware

Table 20: Detailed Detection Result on All Dataset
(a) Malgenome
(b) Drebin
(c) MalDozer
Figure 13: attribution confusion matrices
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