NCC Reports New Malware Attacking Android Devices

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) yesterday informed telecom consumers and members of the public of a new Android malware discovery that is attacking Android phones.

According to the NCC, the malware, named ‘AbstractEmu’, could gain access to smartphones, take complete control of infected smartphones and silently modify device settings while simultaneously taking steps to evade detection.

The NCC in a statement signed by its Director, Public Affairs, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, disclosed that the discovery was announced recently by the Nigerian Computer Emergency Response Team (ngCERT), the national agency established by the federal government to manage risks of cyber threats in the Nigeria, which also coordinates incident response and mitigation strategies to proactively prevent cyber-attacks against Nigeria.

The statement added that AbstractEmu had been found to be distributed via Google Play Store and third-party stores such as the Amazon Appstore and the Samsung Galaxy Store, as well as other lesser-known marketplaces like Aptoide and APKPure.

The advisory stated that a total of 19 Android applications that posed as utility apps and system tools like password managers, money managers, app launchers, and data saving apps had been reported to contain the rooting functionality of the malware.

The apps are said to have been prominently distributed via third-party stores such as the Amazon Appstore and the Samsung Galaxy Store, as well as other lesser-known marketplaces like Aptoide and APKPure. The apps include All Passwords, Anti-ads Browser, Data Saver, Lite Launcher, My Phone, Night Light and Phone Plus, among others.

According to the report, rooting malware although rare, is dangerous. By using the rooting process to gain privileged access to the Android operating system, the threat actor could silently grant itself dangerous permissions or install additional malware – steps that would normally require user interaction. Elevated privileges also give the malware access to other apps’ sensitive data, something not possible under normal circumstances.

The ngCERT advisory also captured the consequences of making their devices susceptible to AbstractEmu attack. Once installed, the attack chain is designed to leverage one of five exploits for older Android security flaws that would allow it to gain root permissions. It also takes over the device, installs additional malware, extracts sensitive data, and transmits to a remote attack-controlled server.

According to the statement, the malware could modify the phone settings to give app ability to reset the device password, or lock the device, through device admin; draw over other windows; install other packages; access accessibility services; ignore battery optimisation; monitor notifications; capture screenshots; record device screen; disable Google Play Protect; as well as modify permissions that grant access to contacts, call logs, Short Messaging Service (SMS), Geographic Positioning System (GPS), camera, and microphone.

The ngCERT also asserts in the advisory that, while the malicious apps were removed from Google Play Store, the other app stores are likely distributing them.

The NCC therefore reiterated a two-fold ngCERT advisory in order to mitigate the risks. The two-fold advisory include: Firstly, users should be wary of installing unknown or unusual apps, and look out for different behaviours as they use their phones. Secondly, reset your phone to factory settings when there is suspicion of unusual behaviours in your phone.

NCC said it would continue sensitise and educate telecoms consumers on any cyber threat capable of inflicting low or high-impact harms on their devices, whether discovered through the ngCERT or the telecom sector’s Centre for Computer Security Incident Response managed by the NCC.

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