Spyware and Google have shared a pretty close relationship of late and the recent discovery from researchers at Trend Micro further establishes the fact that no matter how hard Google tries Android spyware keeps haunting its digital offerings.
Reportedly, Trend Micro security researchers have identified a number of games and apps containing built-in spyware that can steal personal data and transfer it to malicious threat actors.
Dubbed as Mobstspy, the Android spyware is identified in utility apps and games that have been disguised successfully to appear legitimate.
The spyware has information stealing and phishing capabilities.
Most of the infected devices are identified in India but the spyware seems to have been distributed globally as it has managed to infect devices in around 196 countries.
A total of 7 apps contain Mobstspy Android spyware namely:
Flappy Birr Dog
One of these apps has been installed over 100,000 times.
One of the applications initially investigated was the game called Flappy Birr Dog, as seen in Figure 1.
Other applications included FlashLight, HZPermis Pro Arabe, Win7imulator, Win7Launcher and Flappy Bird. Five out of six of these apps have been suspended from Google Play since February 2018.
And as of writing, Google has already removed all of these applications from Google Play.
Figure 1. Flappy Birr Dog download page
MobSTSPY is capable of stealing information like user location, SMS conversations, call logs and clipboard items.
It uses Firebase Cloud Messaging to send information to its server.
Once the malicious application is launched, the malware will first check the device’s network availability.
It then reads and parses an XML configure file from its C&C server.
Figure 2. Example of configure file being taken from a C&C server
The malware will then collect certain device information such as the language used, its registered country, package name, device manufacturer etc.
Examples of all the information it steals can be seen in Figure 3.
Figure 3. Example of stolen information
It sends the gathered information to its C&C server, thus registering the device. Once done, the malware will wait for and perform commands sent from its C&C server through FCM.
Figure 4. Parse command from the C&C
Depending on the command the malware receives, it can steal SMS conversations, contact lists, files, and call logs, as seen from commands in the subsequent figures below.
Figure 5. Steal SMS conversations
Figure 6. Steal contact list
Figure 7. Steal call logs
The malware is even capable of stealing and uploading files found on the device, and will do so as long as it receives the commands as seen in Figures 8 and 9 respectively.
Figure 8. Steal files from target folds
Figure 9. Upload files
In addition to its info-stealing capabilities, the malware can also gather additional credentials through a phishing attack. It’s capable of displaying fake Facebook and Google pop-ups to phish for the user’s account details.
Figure 10. Phishing behavior
With its phishing capabilities, the attacker can easily launch a fake login screen when the victim attempts to use his/her Google or Facebook account.
Since a majority of the users cannot differentiate between fake and genuine login screens, therefore, they are bound to fall for the trap.
“If the user inputs his/her credentials, the fake pop-up will only state that the log-in was unsuccessful. At which point the malware would already have stolen the user’s credentials,” the researchers said in a blog post.
As soon as they provide their login credentials, the malware displays a failed login attempt but actually, the attackers have stolen the username and password. In case the user has enabled 2FA authentication the attacker would find it difficult to hijack the account. Luckily, both Google and Facebook offer 2FA authentication.
Mobstspy is different from other Android spyware because it steals a wide range of data from infected devices such as contacts, call logs, images, recorded voice conversations, and text messages records.
It particularly looks for data from apps like Snapchat, WhatsApp, Viber, and similar call recording applications. Furthermore, Bluetooth storage location, sound directories, and camera folder are also searched by the malware.
Trend Micro researchers have located the C&C servers where Mobstspy transfers all the stolen data. There are two servers mobistartapp[.]com, coderoute[.]ma, hizaxytv[.]com, and seepano[.]com that act as the C&C servers for the attackers.
Mobstspy delivers the information using Google’s developed Firebase Cloud Messaging system that works on Android, iOS, and web apps.
After the infected app is launched on the device, the malware checks for the device’s network and then reads/parses an XML configuration file from the C&C server after which it collects the information and sends to the attackers.
After delivering the data, the device starts receiving commands via the Firebase service and executes them.
“This case demonstrates that despite the prevalence and usefulness of apps, users must remain cautious when downloading them to their devices. The popularity of apps serves as an incentive for cybercriminals to continue developing campaigns that utilize them to steal information or perform other kinds of attacks. In addition, users can install a comprehensive cybersecurity solution to defend their mobile devices against mobile malware,” Trend Micro concluded.
The infected apps were available on Google Play Store in 2018 and five of them have already been suspended by Google while the last one is also not available for downloading anymore on its official marketplace. However, third-party app stores are still offering them and it is currently unclear how many users have so far been affected by Mobstspy malware.