How to Detect Virtualization to Protect Android & iOS Apps

Last updated September 14, 2022 by Appdome

Learn to Prevent Virtual Devices in Android apps, in mobile CI/CD with a Data-Driven DevSecOps™ build system.

What is Virtualization?

Once limited only to desktop OSs, modern mobile devices now support running apps in virtual environments without needing to modify the physical device.
There are two main approaches for implementing this:

  • Creating a fully functioning virtual “guest” OS, which proxies between the apps launched within it and the host’s OS. This approach enables controlling every aspect of the virtual OS, such as allowing specific apps in the virtual OS to obtain root privileges while the physical device remains non-rooted.
  • The more lightweight approach – running the app within the host’s OS while applying changes to running properties in order to create a virtual isolated instance of the app. This can be achieved by launching an original app with a different UID and sandbox path, thereby running in parallel two instances of the same app that are unaware of each other.

Why Prevent Virtual Devices in Android Apps ?

Running mobile apps in a virtualized environments is often used for cheating or committing fraud in mobile banking, finance and mobile games. Running apps in virtualized environments allow fraudsters to manipulate RAM, networking elements, and other game properties to gain advantages. Virtualization apps such as Parallel Spaces, DualSpaces, VMOS attacks allow game cheaters to play games by using multiple accounts at the same time, a technique that enables cheaters to bypass licensing checkers and play premium games for free, as well as to conceal their activities for longer periods of time.

Preventing Virtual Devices on Android apps by Using Appdome

On Appdome, follow these 3 simple steps to create self-defending Android Apps that Prevent Virtual Devices without an SDK or gateway:

  1. Upload the Mobile App to Appdome.

    1. Upload an app to Appdome’s Mobile App Security Build System

    2. Upload Method: Appdome Console or DEV-API
    3. Android Formats: .apk or .aab
  2. Build the Protection: Prevent Virtualization.

    1. Building Prevent Virtualization by using Appdome’s DEV-API:

      1. Create and name the Fusion Set (security template) that will contain the Prevent Virtualization feature as shown below:
      2. fusion set that contains Prevent Virtualization

        Figure 1: Fusion Set that will contain the Prevent Virtualization feature
        Note: Naming the Fusion Set to correspond to the protection(s) selected is for illustration purposes only (not required).

      3. Follow the steps in Sections 2.2.1-2.2.2 of this article, Building the Prevent Virtualization feature via Appdome Console, to add the Prevent Virtualization feature to this Fusion Set.

      4. Open the Fusion Set Detail Summary by clicking the “...” symbol on the far-right corner of the Fusion Set, as shown in Figure 1 above, and get the Fusion Set ID from the Fusion Set Detail Summary (as shown below): fusion Set Detail Summary image

        Figure 2: Fusion Set Detail Summary
        Note: Annotating the Fusion Set to identify the protection(s) selected is optional only (not mandatory).

      5. Follow the instructions below to use the Fusion Set ID inside any standard mobile DevOps or CI/CD toolkit like Bitrise, App Center, Jenkins, Travis, Team City, Cirlce CI or other system:
        1. Build an API for the app – for instructions, see the tasks under Appdome API Reference Guide
        2. Look for sample APIs in Appdome’s GitHub Repository
    2. Building the Prevent Virtualization feature via Appdome Console

      To build the Prevent Virtualization protection by using Appdome Console, follow the instructions below.

      1. Where: Inside the Appdome Console, go to Build > Anti Fraud Tab > Mobile Fraud Prevention section
      2. How: Toggle (turn ON) Prevent Virtualization, as shown belowVirtual Devices, If needed, Customize the Threat Notification to be displayed to the mobile end-user in a standard OS dialog notification when Appdome Prevents . Prevent Virtualization option

        Figure 3: Prevent Virtual Devices option
        Note: The App Compromise Notification contains an easy to follow default remediation path for the mobile app end user. You can customize this message as required to achieve brand specific support, workflow or other messaging.

      3. When you select the Prevent Virtualization you'll notice that your Fusion Set you created in step 2.1.1 now bears the icon of the protection category that contains Prevent Virtualization

        Fusion Set applied Prevent Virtualization

        Figure 4: Fusion Set that displays the newly added Prevent Virtualization protection

      4. Select the Threat-Event™ in-app mobile Threat Defense and Intelligence policy for Prevent Virtualization:
        1. Threat-Events™ OFF > In-App Defense

          If the Threat-Events™ setting is cleared (not selected). Appdome will detect and defend the user and app by enforcing Prevent Virtual Devices.

        2. Threat-Events™ ON > In-App Detection

          When this setting is used, Appdome detects a virtualized environment in use with the mobile app and passes Appdome’s Threat-Event™ attack intelligence to the app’s business logic for processing, enforcement, and user notification. For more information on consuming and using Appdome Threat-Events™ in the app, see section Using Threat-Events™ for Prevent Virtualization Intelligence and Control in Mobile Apps.

        3. Threat-Events™ ON > In-App Defense

          When this setting is used, Appdome detects and defends against Virtual Devices (same as Appdome Enforce) and passes Appdome’s Threat-Event™ attack intelligence the app’s business logic for processing. For more information on consuming and using Appdome Threat-Events™ in the app, see section Using Threat-Events™ for Prevent Virtualization Intelligence and Control in Mobile Apps.

      5. Click Build My App at the bottom of the Build Workflow (shown in Figure 3).
    Congratulations!  The Prevent Virtualization protection is now added to the mobile app
  3. Certify the Prevent Virtualization feature in Android Apps.

    After building Prevent Virtualization, Appdome generates a Certified Secure™ certificate to guarantee that the Prevent Virtualization protection has been added and is protecting the app. To verify that the Prevent Virtualization protection has been added to the mobile app, locate the protection in the Certified Secure™ certificate as shown below: Prevent Virtualization shown in Certificate secure

    Figure 5: Certified Secure™ certificate

    Each Certified Secure™ certificate provides DevOps and DevSecOps organizations the entire workflow summary, audit trail of each build, and proof of protection that Prevent Virtualization has been added to each Android app. Certified Secure provides instant and in-line DevSecOps compliance certification that Prevent Virtualization and other mobile app security features are in each build of the mobile app

Using Threat-Events™ for Virtual Devices Intelligence and Control in Android Apps

Appdome Threat-Events™ provides consumable in-app mobile app attack intelligence and defense control when Virtual Devices is detected. To consume and use Threat-Events™ for Virtual Devices in Android Apps, use registerReceiver in the Application OnCreate, and the code samples for Threat-Events™ for Virtual Devices shown below.

The specifications and options for Threat-Events™ for Virtual Devices are:

Threat-Event™ Elements Prevent Virtual Devices Method Detail
Appdome Feature Name Prevent Virtualization
Threat-Event Mode
OFF, IN-APP DEFENSE Appdome detects, defends and notifies user (standard OS dialog) using customizable messaging.
ON, IN-APP DETECTON Appdome detects the attack or threat and passes the event in a standard format to the app for processing (app chooses how and when to enforce).
ON, IN-APP DEFENSE Uses Appdome Enforce mode for any attack or threat and passes the event in a standard format to the app for processing (gather intel on attacks and threats without losing any protection).
Certified Secure™ Threat Event Check
Visible in ThreatScope™
Developer Parameters for Preventing Virtual Devices Threat-Event™
Threat-Event NAME RunningInVirtualSpace
Threat-Event DATA reasonData
Threat-Event CODE reasonCode
Threat-Event REF 6801
Threat-Event SCORE
currentThreatEventScore Current Threat-Event score
threatEventsScore Total Threat-events score
Threat-Event Context Keys
messageMessage displayed for the user on event
externalIDThe external ID of the event which can be listened via Threat Events
osVersionOS version of the current device
deviceModelCurrent device model
deviceManufacturerThe manufacturer of the current device
fusedAppTokenThe task ID of the Appdome fusion of the currently running app
kernelInfoInfo about the kernel: system name, node name, release, version and machine.
carrierPlmnPLMN of the device
deviceIDCurrent device ID
reasonCodeReason code of the occured event
buildDateAppdome fusion date of the current application
devicePlatformOS name of the current device
carrierNameCarrier name of the current device
updatedOSVersionIs the OS version up to date
deviceBrandBrand of the device
deviceBoardBoard of the device
buildUserBuild user
buildHostBuild host
sdkVersionSdk version
timeZoneTime zone
deviceFaceDownIs the device face down
locationLongLocation long
locationLatLocation lat
locationStateLocation state
wifiSsidWifi SSID
wifiSsidPermissionStatusWifi SSID permission status
virtualSpaceAppPackage name of the virtual space app

With Threat-Events™ enabled (turned ON), Android developers can get detailed attack intelligence and granular defense control in Android applications and create amazing user experiences for all mobile end users when Virtual Devices is detected.

The following is a code sample for native Android apps, which uses all values in the specification above for Prevent Virtualization:

Prerequisites to Using Prevent Virtualization:

To use Appdome’s mobile app security build system to Prevent Virtual Devices , you’ll need:

Using Appdome, there are no development or coding prerequisites to build secured Apps by using Prevent Virtualization. There is no SDK and no library to code or implement in the app and no gateway to deploy in your network. All protections are built into each app and the resulting app is self-defending and self-protecting.

Releasing and Publishing Mobile Apps with Prevent Virtualization

After successfully securing your app by using Appdome, there are several available options to complete your project, depending on your app lifecycle or workflow. These include:

All apps protected by Appdome are fully compatible with any public app store, including Apple App Store, Google Play, Huawei App Gallery and more.

Protections Similar to Prevent Virtualization

Here are a few related resources:

If you have any questions, please send them our way at support.appdome.com or via the chat window on the Appdome platform.

Thank you!

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