Android smartphones such as the Motorola Razr Maxx HD are being targeted by new malware that infects through text message ads.(Photo: By Spencer Platt, Getty Images)
SEATTLE -- Android smartphone users beware. Spammed text messages have
begun circulating that can infect your handset, causing it to
continually send virulent text messages to thousands of live phone
numbers each day.
That discovery comes as hackers continue to
probe the Android platform, in particular, for security holes with no
slowdown expected in 2013.
"The mobile threat continues to grow
at a very rapid pace with threats only increasing in complexity," says
Dan Hoffman, mobile security researcher at networking technology firm
Messaging security firm Cloudmark Research
recently discovered a virulent spam campaign that is sending text
messages to Android users offering free versions of Need for Speed Most Wanted, Angry Birds Star Wars, Grand Theft Auto and other popular games.
installing the free app, the user actually downloads a hidden program
connecting their handset to a command and control server in Hong Kong,
says Cloudmark researcher Andrew Conway. The Hong Kong server next sends
the handset a list of 50 phone numbers, copies of viral messages and
instructions to begin sending the messages to each of the numbers.
Previously, Android spammers had to assemble and activate dozens of
SIM cards - the chip at the heart of cellphones - and each card acted as
an individual spam-blasting phone. But that can get expensive, and
carriers have gotten better at detecting and blocking such campaigns.
Using infected Android handsets, instead, is akin to how spammers use infected PCs to spread spam.
they can get their malware on a bunch of different handsets, and,
indeed, have enough handsets so it's difficult for them all to get
detected and shut down, that vastly improves the economics for
spammers," Conway says.
The victim can lose in two ways. If they
don't have an unlimited texting plan, the next phone bill could be a
whopper. It takes about 65 seconds to automatically text 50 phone
numbers, after which the Hong Kong server sends a fresh batch of
numbers. So each infected phone can blast thousands of viral text
messages a day.
What's more, the malicious program also blocks
incoming messages from anyone not on the user's contact list. "So the
phone company or a friend can't text you back and say, 'Stop sending me
spam,'" Conway says.
In such cases, the carrier could decide to unilaterally shut down the user's text-messaging capabilities, he says.
estimates that only a few thousand Android smartphones have been
infected, though tainted text messages continue to circulate. More
worrisome is the notion that this attack could be a precursor of what's
to come in 2013, especially for Android users.
and Research In Motion smartphones are much less targeted. That's
because Google designed Android as an open system, making it easy for
handset makers and Web-application developers to jump on board. Android
has become the world's most popular smartphone platform. But it has
also become the biggest hacker target.
Juniper Networks has
tracked a 350% increase in malicious and invasive apps targeting mostly
Android users in 12 months through the end of October. "Attacks are
becoming more malicious and clandestine," says Juniper's Hoffman.
advises Android users to stick strictly to Google's official
application store, Google Play, and ignore unsolicited offers that
arrive by text message. If you see a suspicious text message offer,
forward it in a text message to 7726, a free service set up by the
carriers to eliminate spam.
Google Play is a "99.99% trustworthy" because the search giant is on high alert for hackers and fixes any breaches quickly.
much safer going to Google Play than from any other source, especially
ones from Asia," Conway says. "If an offer is too good to be true, it's