With millions of applications waiting to be installed in our gadgets, you not only need to be concerned about quality, but you also need to take the proper measures in order to avoid your phone becoming infected by malware. Unfortunately, we already know that Google Play and the Windows Store aren’t immune to malware. Even the Apple Store has its bad days, so we’re not trying to scare you. These days, malware is a continuing, growing threat.
When it comes to security, it seems that Android has seen better days. A slew of vulnerabilities and threats have been cropping up recently, putting multitudes of Android users at risk. Certifi-gate and Stagefright are two threats that, when left unprotected against, could spark major data breaches.
Certifi-gate leaches permissions from other apps to gain remote control access
Certifi-gate is a Trojan that affects Android’s operating system in a scary way. Android devices with Jelly Bean 4.3 or higher are affected by this vulnerability, making about 50% of all Android users vulnerable to attacks or to their personal information being compromised.
What’s frightening about this nasty bug is how easily it can execute an attack – Certifi-gate only requires Internet access in order to gain remote control access of your devices. The attack takes place in three steps:
- A user installs a vulnerable app that contains a remote access backdoor onto their Android device
- A remotely-controlled server takes control of this app by exploiting its insecure backdoor
- Using remote access, Certifi-gate obtains permissions from others apps that have previously been granted higher privileges (i.e. more permissions) by the user and uses them to exploit user data. A good example of an app targeted by Certifi-gate is TeamViewer, an app that allows you to control your Android device remotely.
After a while, your phones and tablets accumulate obsolete files and superfluous data, system caches, gallery thumbnails, and programs. This ‘junk’ slows down your device and eats up precious storage space.
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Earlier this week, security researchers unveiled a vulnerability that is believed to be the worst Android vulnerability yet discovered. The “Stagefright” bug exposes nearly 1 billion Android devices to malware. The vulnerability was found in “Stagefright”, an Android media library. Hackers can gain access to a device by exploiting the vulnerability and can then access contacts and other data, including photos and videos, and can access the device’s microphone and camera, and thus spy on you by recording sound and taking photos.
All devices running Android versions Froyo 2.2 to Lollipop 5.1.1 are affected, which are used by approximately 95% of all Android devices.
The scary part is that hackers only need your phone number to infect you. The malware is delivered via a multimedia message sent to any messenger app that can process MPEG4 video format – like an Android device’s native messaging app, Google Hangouts and WhatsApp. As these Android messaging apps auto-retrieve videos or audio content, the malicious code is executed without the user even doing anything – the vulnerability does not require the victim to open the message or to click on a link. This is unique, as mobile malware usually requires some action to be taken to infect the device. The malware could also be spread via link, which could be sent via email or shared on social networks, for example. This would, however, require user interaction, as the video would not load without the user opening a link. This exploit is extremely dangerous, because if abused via MMS, victims are not required to take any action and there are neither apparent nor visible effects. The attacker can execute the code and remove any signs that the device has been compromised, before victims are even aware that their device has been compromised.
A cybercriminal’s and dictator’s dream
A team of malware authors is playing a cat and mouse game with Google. The game goes like this: they upload their malware, Google Play quickly takes it down, they upload a new mutation and Google takes it down. Current status of the game: the malware is back on Google Play. So far, the malicious apps have infected hundreds of thousands of innocent victims.
In April, we discovered porn clicker malware on Google Play posing as the popular Dubsmash app.
Two days ago, we reported that a mutation of the porn clicker malware, created by a Turkish group of malware authors, made its way back onto Google Play, but have since been removed from the Play Store.
Once the apps were downloaded they did not do anything significant when opened by the user, they just showed a static image. However, once the unsuspecting victim opened his/her browser or other apps, the app began to run in the background and redirect the user to porn sites. Users may not have necessarily understood where these porn redirects were coming from, since it was only possible to stop them from happening once the app was killed. Fellow security researchers at Eset reported that more apps with this mutation were on Google Play earlier this week. Eset also reported that the original form of the malware was uploaded to Google Play multiple times in May. Our findings combined with that from Eset, prove that these malware authors are extremely persistent and determined to make Google Play a permanent residency for their malware.
I’ll be back…
Malware Writers Can’t Keep Their Hands Off Porn
In April, we reported on a porn clicker app that slipped into Google Play posing as the popular Dubsmash app. It seems that this malware has mutated and once again had a short-lived career on Google Play, this time hidden in various “gaming” apps.
For your viewing pleasure
The original form of this porn clicker ran completely hidden in the background, meaning victims did not even notice that anything was happening. This time, however, the authors made the porn a bit more visible to their victims.
The new mutation appeared on Google Play on July 14th and was included in five games, each of which was downloaded by 5,000-10,000 users. Fortunately, Google reacted quickly and has already taken down the games from the Play Store.
Once the app was downloaded, it did not really seem to do anything significant when opened by the user. However, once the unsuspecting victim opened his/her browser or other apps, the app began to run in the background and redirect the user to porn sites. Users may not have necessarily understood where these porn redirects were coming from, since it was only possible to stop them from happening once the app was killed.
Mid January we informed you of a data-stealing piece of Android malware called Fobus. Back then Fobus mainly targeted our users in Eastern Europe and Russia. Now, Fobus is also targeting our users in the USA, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and other countries around the world.
Fobus can cost its unaware victims a lot of money, because it sends premium SMS, makes calls without the victims’ knowledge and can steal private information. More concerning is that Fobus also includes hidden features that can remove critical device protections. The app tricks users into granting it full control of the device and that is when this nasty piece of malware really begins to do its work. You can find some more technical details and analysis of Fobus in our previous blog post from January.
Today, we decided to look back and check on some of the data we gathered from Fobus during the last six months. We weren’t surprised to find out that this malware family is still active and spreading, infecting unaware visitors of unofficial Android app stores and malicious websites.
The interesting part of this malware is the use of server-side polymorphism, which we suspected was being used back in January but could not confirm. We have now confirmed that server-side polymorphism is being used by analyzing some of the samples in our database. Most of these have not only randomly-generated package names, but it also seems that they have randomly-generated signing certificates.
Make sure your Android phone is wiped clean before you sell it.
Every day, tens of thousands of people sell or give away their old mobile phones. We decided to buy some of these used phones to test whether they had been wiped clean of their data. What we found was astonishing: 40,000 photos including 750 photos of partially nude women and more than 250 male nude selfies, 750 emails and texts, 250 names and addresses, a collection of anime porn, a complete loan application, and the identity of four of the previous phone owners.
How did we recover so much personal data?
The problem is that people thought they deleted files but the standard features that came with their operating system did not do the job completely. The operating system deleted the corresponding pointers in the file table and marked the space occupied by the file as free. But in reality, the file still existed and remained on the drive.
Over time, we’ve noticed the presence of some fairly heated user debates disputing the necessity of security or antivirus apps for Android devices. This could have been sparked by our recent post which argues that you can’t always rely on the security of Google Play or because of the myth that antivirus companies create viruses to sell more software.
Certain security gurus claim that if users stick to downloading and purchasing apps using only the Google Play Store, nothing bad will happen to their devices. However, we found that this line of thinking is not 100% correct, as was demonstrated through the discovery of a rogue Dubsmash app or in the infamous case of apps on Google Play posing as games and infecting millions of users with adware. Despite these findings, there are some users who still feel that they’re safe whenever using Google Play. This feeling of false security could have negative consequences; for example, when your data or financial information is stolen or when you have to resort to resetting your device in order to cleanse it of malware.
So, we know we can’t rely on the Google Play Store all the time, but are third-party stores more secure? Of course not. In this case, how is it still possible that it’s not a problem to use third-party stores? First of all, it’s necessary to point out that there are certain legitimate and clean third-party stores, such as Amazon and FDroid. At the same time, there are tons of shady stores and even more black market .apk files promising to deliver you the latest features of a cracked app.
By the end of the decade, everyone on Earth will be connected.
–Eric Schmidt, Google chairman
As a rule of thumb, it’s good to keep in mind that anything and everything that can be connected to the Internet can be hacked. Poorly designed or implemented systems could expose serious vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit. Now, most of us are fairly familiar with certain gadgets that can be connected to the Internet, such as mobiles devices and/or laptops, smart watches, and cars, but what about the things that are still emerging within the Internet-connected world? Some of these new items include routers, sensors, and everyday gadgets such as alarm clocks, wearables, microwaves, and grills.