December 19, 2016 By Douglas Bonderud 2 min read

Mobile malware is quickly becoming the vehicle of choice for entrepreneurial cybercriminals as users leverage smartphones and tablets to store personal information, access banking sites and make online purchases.

As noted by CNBC, for example, the recent Gooligan attack, which is a variant of the older Ghost Push, grabbed Google account details from more than a million users, taking data from Gmail, Google Photos, and Google Drive. But even as security teams get a handle on Gooligan, another attack, Tordow malware 2.0, is on the rise. This second iteration is based on a banking Trojan, but instead of just login details, the malware is now going after root access for unfettered control of victims’ devices.

Tordow Malware Branches Out

According to Softpedia, the new Tordow, spotted by security firm Comodo in Russia, has the potential to become a worldwide threat. It all starts when cybercriminals grab legitimate apps from the Google Play store, reverse engineer them and add their own malware code.

Next, the apps are uploaded to third-party app sites where they wait for unsuspecting users. Popular apps have been infected, but it’s worth noting that the Play store itself seems to be safe. So long as users don’t download apps from unknown stores or download and install Android application packages (APKs) directly, there’s little chance of compromise.

Once infected, however, the malware goes after root privileges and executes a laundry list of functions, including making phone calls, controlling SMS messages, downloading programs, stealing login credentials, encrypting files, removing security software and manipulating banking data. Financial apps are the primary target here.

While it’s possible to detect Tordow once installed, removing it is no easy feat since it has complete device access. Deleting the source app won’t remove the permissions. Users should consider flashing new firmware as a way to reset and regain control of infected devices.

Fouled Firmware and Fighting Fire?

But even firmware isn’t a rock solid assurance of safety. As noted by Bleeping Computer, 26 low-cost Android devices running MediaTek chipsets are now shipping with malware baked in that not only collects data from users, but also downloads and installs specific apps. These include the H5GameCenter, which prompts users to download other applications and intrusively presents a blue box icon, no matter what users are doing. If deleted, the app is re-installed at a later time.

According to BGR, however, there is some hope for users looking to push back against prolific malware. After having his phone stolen, a film student deliberately put another device at risk but loaded it with persistent malware that allowed him to watch and monitor the criminal’s every move. It’s a successful demo of what high-level security experts have been talking about for years: the need to embrace malicious methods as a way to confound and confuse cybercriminals.

Tordow malware 2.0 is digging deep, looking to compromise Android permissions and steal valuable data. Gooligan is still making the rounds and even firmware isn’t safe. Getting to the root of this problem may demand defenses modeled on cybercriminals’ vicious and unrelenting attacks.

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