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Supply chain security issues could leave Android devices vulnerable to attack
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Open versus closed systems.
And that puts the onus on users to take care. Also, again just in the last week, we have seen Facebook take legal action against developers for ad-fraud apps downloaded from Google Play and even a warning from Google itself than tens of millions of Android devices are being bought new with dangerous malware factory-installed. The victims here are the users with infected devices as well as the organizations paying for ghost ads and click-throughs. And the problem is undoubtedly getting worse, the malware more sophisticated and prevalent. While the usual warnings still apply to users, the bigger message now is to the industry of developers and to the app platforms to improve efforts to keep the ecosystem safer than it is at the moment.
Supply chains are being successfully compromised, and users are being put in a position where they don't know who to trust. That is seriously damaging for the industry as a whole. Android's open-source operating system allows for more affordable alternatives for millions of people, but it also opens the door for hackers to sneak in prepackaged malware.
Preinstalled malware had been discovered on more than 7. While major Android partners like Samsung or LG, as well as Google's own Pixel devices, are likely safe from these kinds of threats, budget phone makers who rely on third-party software to save a few bucks could be vulnerable. Attackers offer genuine services, and hide the malware in the apps they provide, according to Maddie Stone, a security researcher on Google's Project Zero and previously a tech lead on the Android Security team.
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Stone, who discussed her research at the Black Hat cybersecurity conference in Las Vegas on Thursday, sees preinstalled malware as a threat that security researchers aren't often focused on, since attention is usually directed toward malware that victims download on their own.
But unlike downloaded malware, preinstalled malware is harder to find and even more difficult to get rid of.
Because Apple has full control over its iPhone, preinstalled malware isn't much of a concern for iOS, or the App Store. Many of the preinstalled harmful apps pop up after a malicious actor tricks phone makers into including their software on their devices.
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Android's security team discovered two major malware campaigns hidden in preinstalled apps over the last three years, one called Chamois and the other called Triada. Together, they infected tens of millions of low-budget Android devices from the moment they were shipped out. Google did not specify which phones were affected. At Black Hat, Stone detailed three new case studies on preinstalled apps that posed threats to Android devices, though it's unclear whether the apps' creators had malicious intent.
They affected millions of devices and turned off Google Play Protect, spied on people's web activity and allowed potential hackers to run code remotely, Stone said. Stone discussed two cases where the preinstalled "malware" were accidents, but still presented a security threat for millions of people.