New Android spyware strain masquerades as COVID-19 tracking app

Malware on a phone
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

A new form of Android spyware has been discovered that uses explicit content and the COVID-19 pandemic to instal remote access malware on mobile devices.

The malicious application is being distributed by a prolific hacking group based in India, dubbed "Transparent Tribe", according to Kaspersky researchers.

The cyber security vendor has been tracking the group for over four years and recent research suggested it had been working to improve its toolset and expand its operation – which now includes mobile threats.

Previous investigations into Transparent Tribe uncovered an Android implant it had distributed in India as either a pornographic clip or as part of a fake national COVID-19 tracking app.

The first application is a modified version of a simple open-source video player you can find on Android, according to Kaspersky. As it's installed, it uses an adult video to distract the user. The second application, known as "Aarogya Setu", is similar to the coronavirus tracking app developed by the government of India's National Informatics Centre – a department under the country's Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

Once downloaded, both applications will attempt to install a modified version of an Android-based Remote Access Tool (RAT). This is malware that has been customised by the attackers to extract data.

The researchers spotted the connection between the group and the two applications thanks to the related domains the hackers used to host malicious files for its different campaigns.

"The new findings underline the efforts of the Transparent Tribe members to add new tools that expand their operations even further and reach their victims via different attack vectors, which now include mobile devices," said Giampaolo Dedola, a senior security researcher at Kaspersky's Global Research and Analysis Team.

"We also see that the actor is steadily working on improving and modifying the tools they use. To stay protected from such threats, users need to be more careful than ever in assessing the sources they download content from and make sure that their devices are secure. This is especially relevant to those who know that they might become a target of an APT attack."

Bobby Hellard

Bobby Hellard is ITPro's Reviews Editor and has worked on CloudPro and ChannelPro since 2018. In his time at ITPro, Bobby has covered stories for all the major technology companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, and regularly attends industry-leading events such as AWS Re:Invent and Google Cloud Next.

Bobby mainly covers hardware reviews, but you will also recognize him as the face of many of our video reviews of laptops and smartphones.