Understanding Android app piggybacking: a systematic study of malicious code grafting

Li Li, Daoyuan Li, Tegawende F. Bissyande, Jacques Klein, Yves Le Traon, David Lo, Lorenzo Cavallaro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


The Android packaging model offers ample opportunities for malware writers to piggyback malicious code in popular apps, which can then be easily spread to a large user base. Although recent research has produced approaches and tools to identify piggybacked apps, the literature lacks a comprehensive investigation into such phenomenon. We fill this gap by: 1) systematically building a large set of piggybacked and benign apps pairs, which we release to the community; 2) empirically studying the characteristics of malicious piggybacked apps in comparison with their benign counterparts; and 3) providing insights on piggybacking processes. Among several findings providing insights analysis techniques should build upon to improve the overall detection and classification accuracy of piggybacked apps, we show that piggybacking operations not only concern app code, but also extensively manipulates app resource files, largely contradicting common beliefs. We also find that piggybacking is done with little sophistication, in many cases automatically, and often via library code.

Original languageEnglish
Article number7828100
Pages (from-to)1269-1284
Number of pages16
JournalIEEE Transactions on Information Forensics and Security
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • android malware
  • Android security
  • code grafting
  • piggybacking attack

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