Mobile

12/4/2014
05:46 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail
100%
0%

'DeathRing' Malware Found Pre-Installed On Smartphones

Phones from low-cost, third-tier vendors in Asia and Africa have been affected, but that doesn't mean it can't happen here.

For the second time this year, a security vendor has issued a warning about brand-new mobile phones that come pre-loaded with malicious software. And like last time, the threat appears mostly restricted to low-cost and counterfeit handsets manufactured by vendors in Asia and Africa.

The implications, though, could be much broader because it suggests that criminals have shifted to distributing mobile malware via the supply chain, mobile security vendor Lookout Research said in a report released today.

The malware is a Chinese Trojan program that Lookout has dubbed DeathRing, which the mobile security firm found pre-installed on several popular smartphones sold in Asia and Africa. The Trojan is disguised as a ringtone application and is loaded in the phone's system directory from where it is impossible to remove by security vendors.

It gets activated when the phone is powered down and rebooted five times, or when the user has been away and returns to the phone a minimum of 50 times, researchers found.

Once activated, DeathRing is programmed to fetch SMS and wireless application protocol (WAP) content from a command and control server, which it then uses in several malicious ways. "For example, DeathRing might use SMS content to phish victim's personal information by fake text messages requesting the desired data," according to the report. "It may also use WAP, or browser, content to prompt victims to download further [malware]."

The command and control server appears to be offline so DeathRing no longer poses an immediate threat to users with infected handsets, says Jeremy Linden, a security researcher at Lookout.

All of the infected devices are from second and third-tier manufactures and are Android-powered brands unfamiliar in the US such as TECNO, Gionee, Polytron Rocket, Karbonn TA-FONE and a couple of Samsung knockoffs.

A large number of handsets in countries like Indonesia, Kenya and Nigeria appear to have shipped with the malware preinstalled on the devices, Linden says. In Nigeria, DeathRing is the No. 1 threat encountered by users running Lookout's mobile security software, he said.

Lookout has been unable to determine where exactly in the supply chain -- or how -- the malware was installed. "These phones pass through quite a few hands," before reaching the consumer, he says. So it is very hard to determine where in the distribution chain the compromise might have occurred.

DeathRing marks the second time this year that Lookout has spotted malware pre-installed on mobile devices. In April, the company discovered another malware program called Mouabad similarly installed on low-cost handsets in Asia. In that case, however, Lookout also saw evidence of the malware on some phones sold in Spain as well.

The chances of something similar happening in the US are significantly lower because of the much tighter suppler chain controls, says Tyler Shields, an analyst with Forrester Research.

But that doesn't mean it can never happen, he says. In fact, there are several instances where software and hardware products have been backdoored or had malware similarly preinstalled on them right out of the box.

Back in 2009, Shields, then a researcher with Veracode, gave a presentation at a Black Hat Europe on how researchers can detect malware and backdoors on what he described as "certified pre-owned" hardware and software.

Some examples he used during the presentation included a Samsung digital photo frame, an Asus 80GB hard drive, Sony BMG CDs, and a Walmart promo CD, all of which contained malware in form or the other.

"This has been a concern not just with mobile devices," he says. "This is about the security of the supply chain. It is a matter of who has the tightest controls over the vendors in the supply chain."

Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Joe Stanganelli
50%
50%
Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
12/12/2014 | 8:49:32 PM
Re: Pre-loaded malware is a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Yeah, but if products from Walmart, Sony, Samsung, and Asus are carrying this stuff in the US, it could be a big disaster waiting to happen.
CMILTON4529
50%
50%
CMILTON4529,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/10/2014 | 7:51:43 AM
Pre-loaded malware ; can it jump the gap and make it to the US
The big question is, can this systemic malware jump to the US for the many uncovered versions of Android ?
ODA155
50%
50%
ODA155,
User Rank: Ninja
12/8/2014 | 12:06:51 PM
Re: Pre-loaded malware is a lawsuit waiting to happen.
From everything I've read unless you live in Africa or some Asian contry and you're using a cheap or "knock-off" of a more popular phone you have nothing to worry about.
Joe Stanganelli
50%
50%
Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
12/7/2014 | 9:47:18 PM
Pre-loaded malware is a lawsuit waiting to happen.
I'd love to be the attorney on that deceptive trade practices class action!
1.9 Billion Data Records Exposed in First Half of 2017
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  9/20/2017
Get Serious about IoT Security
Derek Manky, Global Security Strategist, Fortinet,  9/20/2017
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
Security Vulnerabilities: The Next Wave
Just when you thought it was safe, researchers have unveiled a new round of IT security flaws. Is your enterprise ready?
Flash Poll
[Strategic Security Report] How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Problem
[Strategic Security Report] How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Problem
Enterprises are spending more of their IT budgets on cybersecurity technology. How do your organization's security plans and strategies compare to what others are doing? Here's an in-depth look.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2017-0290
Published: 2017-05-09
NScript in mpengine in Microsoft Malware Protection Engine with Engine Version before 1.1.13704.0, as used in Windows Defender and other products, allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code or cause a denial of service (type confusion and application crash) via crafted JavaScript code within ...

CVE-2016-10369
Published: 2017-05-08
unixsocket.c in lxterminal through 0.3.0 insecurely uses /tmp for a socket file, allowing a local user to cause a denial of service (preventing terminal launch), or possibly have other impact (bypassing terminal access control).

CVE-2016-8202
Published: 2017-05-08
A privilege escalation vulnerability in Brocade Fibre Channel SAN products running Brocade Fabric OS (FOS) releases earlier than v7.4.1d and v8.0.1b could allow an authenticated attacker to elevate the privileges of user accounts accessing the system via command line interface. With affected version...

CVE-2016-8209
Published: 2017-05-08
Improper checks for unusual or exceptional conditions in Brocade NetIron 05.8.00 and later releases up to and including 06.1.00, when the Management Module is continuously scanned on port 22, may allow attackers to cause a denial of service (crash and reload) of the management module.

CVE-2017-0890
Published: 2017-05-08
Nextcloud Server before 11.0.3 is vulnerable to an inadequate escaping leading to a XSS vulnerability in the search module. To be exploitable a user has to write or paste malicious content into the search dialogue.