This week, Check Point revealed that a malware called CopyCat has managed to infect over 14 million Android powered mobile devices across the globe. According to Check Point researchers, the malware’s M.O. was to root handsets and hijack mobile apps in order to generate millions of cash through fraudulent advertising.
Reports indicate that most of the infected devices are from the Asian regions. In the United States, however, no less than 280,000 Android handsets have already been affected. Google has also began monitoring the malware for a couple of years now, and it has even updated its Play Protect in order to defend against CopyCat. But because of various third party app downloads and phishing attacks, millions of mobile devices still get hit.
The research team at Check Point do not believe that CopyCat was distributed on the Google Play online app store. And Google has released an official statement that through Play Protect, mobile users are protected against this particular family of malware. If there are any mobile apps hit with the CopyCat malware, they were not sold through Google Play.
What makes the CopyCat malware so dangerous is that it has the ability to mimic a popular mobile app, and when it is made available on third party app stores, people download it thinking it is the genuine thing. And when it gets installed in the device, this is where it does its damage. Not only does it illegally gather information from the infected handset, it also downloads root kits which aid in rooting the device, basically bypassing its security protocols.
One the security of the device is compromised, the CopyCat malware then proceeds to downloading fake mobile apps, and then hijack the handset’s Zygote, which is used for launching any app installed in the phone. With a device’s Zygote under the malware’s control, it can track any new app downloaded or launched by the user, potentially collecting any sensitive data used during app sessions. CopyCat can also change the Referrer ID on the user’s apps, and when that happens, every ad that is displayed on the app sends revenue to the hackers instead of the creators of the app. For good measure, CopyCat will also insert an ad of its own in order to generate earnings.
So how do Android users protect themselves? They can start by not downloading apps from third party app stores for now. And of course, using Google’s Play Protect provides some defense.
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