By Dan Goodin
A single threat actor has aggressively bombarded Android users with more than 4,000 spyware apps since February, and in at least three cases the actor snuck the apps into Google’s official Play Market, security researchers said Thursday.
Soniac was one of the three apps that made its way into Google Play, according to a blog post published Thursday by a researcher from mobile security firm Lookout. The app, which had from 1,000 to 5,000 downloads before Google removed it, provided messaging functions through a customized version of the Telegram communications program. Behind the scenes, Soniac had the ability to surreptitiously record audio, take phones, make calls, send text messages, and retrieve logs, contacts, and information about Wi-Fi access points. Google ejected the app after Lookout reported it as malicious.
Two other apps—one called Hulk Messenger and the other Troy Chat—were also available in Play but were later removed. It’s not clear if the developer withdrew the apps or if Google expelled them after discovering their spying capabilities. The remaining apps—which since February number slightly more than 4,000—are being distributed through other channels that weren’t immediately clear. Lookout researcher Michael Flossman said those channels may include alternative markets or targeted text messages that include a download link. The apps are all part of a malware family Lookout calls SonicSpy.
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