Google Android Remote Access Tool Highlights Growing Market for Mobile Spyware


As smartphones have continued to proliferate, the migration of malware to these devices has continued to flourish. And so it was that researchers at FireEye spotted a program known as WinSpy armed with a remote access tool (RAT) aimed at Google Android users being used to target a financial institution.

According to security researchers, the widespread adoption of mobile devices has created a new market for remote access tools to target smartphone platforms.

Though WinSpy is sold openly on the Web, its capabilities are very enticing for attackers. Just recently, it was spied by FireEye being used in a phishing attack against an unidentified financial organization in the U.S. with one surprising twist – it was not just going after Windows users.

This version of WinSpy featured various spying components for Android that has been dubbed ‘GimmeRat’. The capabilities allow a victim’s smartphone to be controlled by either another mobile device via SMS messages or alternatively through a Windows-based controller.

“With the increasing number of mobile devices, it is hard to say what the market it is,” says FireEye researcher Hitesh Dharmdasani. “But the attention towards these devices is ever-increasing.”

The RAT capabilities of WinSpy put it into a category of a growing number of similar tools being used to target Google Android users.

“There is a free Android RAT called AndroRAT that is popular,” says Nart Villeneueve, also of FireEye. “While the RAT is free, the binder (AndroBinder) is $43. There was another Android RAT known as Dendroid that was advertised on forums for $300, but does not seem to be available anymore. The author of Dendroid is reportedly working on a new Android RAT. There is another RAT known as Unrecom RAT – previously known as Adwind RAT – that has Android capabilities. It sells for $200 – $500.”

These tools, he says, are being marketed on underground forums. There are a variety of tutorials that explain how to use them and judging by the responses on the forums there appears to be considerable demand, he says.

Grayson Milbourne, director of security intelligence for Webroot, notes that there has been an increase in remote access tools just like there has been in every other category of malicious Android apps.

“One thing to consider,” he says, “is that many of these apps are sold under the category of ‘tracking’ apps, such as track your kids, or track your spouse. In any event, these apps provide access to what’s on the device such as SMS/phone history, GPS tracking, browser history, etc.—and while they mostly do not offer direct control over the device, being able to record all data from the device is sufficient for compromise.”

Overall, there has been a maturing of cybercrime-as-a-service offerings for mobile devices during the past two years, says Milbourne.

“Services range from malicious app creation, app binding, app market placement, trusted developer credentials, botnet hosting, SMS phishing/flooding and telephony based services – just to name a few,” he says. “We consider the rate of these services popping up as a clear indicator that there is a strong focus on compromising mobile devices – and for good reason considering the quantity of data and poor security on most mobile devices.”

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