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“Agent Smith” malware hits 25 million devices worldwide

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In the Wachowski Brothers’ classic Matrix trilogy, “Agent Smith” famously describes the human race as a species that multiplies until every resource is consumed. In reality, it is the “Agent Smith” of the mobile malware world that is the real virus – and is spreading at alarming rates.

Check Point Researchers recently discovered a new variant of mobile malware that has quietly infected around 25 million devices, while the user remains completely unaware. Disguised as a Google-related application, the core part of the malware exploits various known Android vulnerabilities and automatically replaces installed apps on the device with malicious versions without the user’s interaction.

So far, the primary victims are based in India though other Asian countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh are also impacted, as are even a noticeable number of devices in the UK, Australia and the US. Check Point has worked closely with Google and at the time of publishing, no malicious apps remain on the Play Store.

Dubbed “Agent Smith”, the malware currently uses its broad access to the device’s resources to show fraudulent ads for financial gain. This activity resembles previous campaigns such as Gooligan, Hummingbad and CopyCat malware and can infect all smartphones updated beyond even Android v.7.

In this case, “Agent Smith” is being used for financial gain through the use of malicious advertisements. However, it could easily be used for far more intrusive and harmful purposes such as banking credential theft and eavesdropping. Indeed, due to its ability to hide its icon from the launcher and impersonate existing user-trusted popular apps, there are endless possibilities for this sort of malware to harm a user’s device.

What Does “Agent Smith” Do?

“Agent Smith” has primarily three phases in its attack flow.

In the first phase, the attacker lures users to download a dropper application from an app store such as 9Apps. These droppers are usually disguised as free games, utility applications or adult entertainment applications, yet contain an encrypted malicious payload. The dropper application then checks if any popular applications, such apps include WhatsApp, MXplayer, ShareIt and more from the attacker’s pre-determined list, are installed on the device. If any targeted application is found, “Agent Smith” will then attack those innocent applications at a later stage.

In the second phase, after the dropper gains a foothold on victim device, it automatically decrypts the malicious payload into its original form – an APK (Android installation file) file which serves as the core part of “Agent Smith’s attack. The dropper then abuses several known system vulnerabilities to install the core malware without any user interaction at all.

In the third phase, the core malware conducts attacks against each installed application on the device which appears on its target list. The core malware quietly extracts a given innocent application’s APK file, patches it with extra malicious modules and finally abuses a further set of system vulnerabilities to silently swap the innocent version with a malicious one.


Diagram: “Agent Smith”’s Attack Flow

Lessons Learned

As “Agent Smith” was originally downloaded from the widely used third-party app store, 9Apps, targeted mostly at Indian (Hindi), Arabic, Russian, Indonesian speaking users, it is not surprising that it reached such a high infection rate. After all, third-party app stores often lack the security measures required to block adware loaded apps.

With such a devious infection method of replacing existing device apps with the malicious version of those apps, users are reminded that apps should only be downloaded from trusted app stores to mitigate the risk of infection.

Given “Agent Smith’s main approach is to attack user-installed applications from third-party app stores silently, it is very challenging for common Android users to fight against such threats. Having an advanced threat prevention solution such as SandBlast Mobile installed on the device, though, would have detected and blocked the malicious version of these apps from being installed while alerting the user to the suspicious attempted activity.

Within the mobile threat landscape, the best protection against invasive mobile malware attacks like “Agent Smith” is to leverage advanced threat prevention technologies, powered by advanced threat intelligence, combined with a ‘hygiene first’ approach to protecting your organisation’s digital assets. 

SandBlast Mobile’s unique security infrastructure, On-device Network Protection, delivers threat prevention capabilities to enterprise mobile devices that were previously only available in network and endpoint security solutions. By inspecting and controlling all network traffic on the device, SandBlast Mobile prevents phishing attacks across all apps, email, SMS, iMessage and messaging apps. In addition, the solution prevents accessing malicious or restricted websites, and infected devices from accessing corporate resources and communicating with botnets. To ensure data and user privacy, SandBlast Mobile validates cellular traffic on the device itself without routing data through a corporate gateway.

For full technical details about “Agent Smith”, please visit Check Point Research.

To learn more about how you can protect yourself from mobile malware, please check out SandBlast Mobile.

If you have been infected by apps such as those described in “Agent Smith”, or otherwise, please follow these steps to remove the malicious apps.

For Android:

  1. Go to Settings Menu
  2. Click on Apps or Application Manager
  3. Scroll to the suspected app and uninstall it.
  4. If it can’t be found then remove all recently installed apps.

For iPhone:

  1. Go to Settings Menu
  2. Scroll to ‘Safari’
  3. On the list of options, ensure that ‘block pop-ups’ is selected.
  4. Then go to Advanced -> Website Data
  5. For any unrecognized sites listed, delete this site.

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Millennials turning 40: NOW will you stop targeting them?

It’s one of the most overused terms in youth marketing, and probably the most inaccurate, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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One of the most irritating buzzwords embraced by marketers in recent years is the term “millennial”. Most are clueless about its true meaning, and use it as a supposedly cool synonym for “young adults”. The flaw in this targeting – and the word “flaw” here is like calling the Grand Canyon a trench – is that it utterly ignores the meaning of the term. “Millennials” are formally defined as anyone born from 1980 to 2000, meaning they have typically come of age after the dawn of the millennium, or during the 21st century.

Think about that for a moment. Next year, the millennial will be formally defined as anyone aged from 20 to 40. So here you have an entire advertising, marketing and public relations industry hanging onto a cool definition, while in effect arguing that 40-year-olds are youths who want the same thing as newly-minted university graduates or job entrants.

When the communications industry discovers just how embarrassing its glib use of the term really is, it will no doubt pivot – millennial-speak for “changing your business model when it proves to be a disaster, but you still appear to be cool” – to the next big thing in generational theory.

That next big thing is currently Generation Z, or people born after the turn of the century. It’s very convenient to lump them all together and claim they have a different set of values and expectations to those who went before. Allegedly, they are engaged in a quest for experience, compared to millennials – the 19-year-olds and 39-olds alike – supposedly all on a quest for relevance.

In reality, all are part of Generation #, latching onto the latest hashtag trend that sweeps social media, desperate to go viral if they are producers of social content, desperate to have caught onto the trend before their peers.

The irony is that marketers’ quest for cutting edge target markets is, in reality, a hangover from the days when there was no such thing as generational theory, and marketing was all about clearly defined target markets. In the era of big data and mass personalization, that idea seems rather quaint.

Indeed, according to Grant Lapping, managing director of DataCore Media, it no longer matters who brands think their target market is.

“The reason for this is simple: with the technology and data digital marketers have access to today, we no longer need to limit our potential target audience to a set of personas or segments derived through customer research. While this type of customer segmentation was – and remains – important for engagements across traditional above-the-line engagements in mass media, digital marketing gives us the tools we need to target customers on a far more granular and personalised level.

“Where customer research gives us an indication of who the audience is, data can tell us exactly what they want and how they may behave.”

Netflix, he points out, is an example of a company that is changing its industry by avoiding audience segmentation, once the holy grail of entertainment.

In other words, it understands that 20-year-olds and 40-year-olds are very different – but so is everyone in between.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Robots coming to IFA

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Robotics is no longer about mechanical humanoids, but rather becoming an interface between man and machine. That is a key message being delivered at next month’s IFA consumer electronics expo in Berlin. An entire hall will be devoted to IFA Next, which will not only offer a look into the future, but also show what form it will take.

The concepts are as varied as the exhibitors themselves. However, there are similarities in the various products, some more human than others, in the fascinating ways in which they establish a link between fun, learning and programming. In many cases, they are aimed at children and young people.

The following will be among the exhibitors making Hall 26 a must-visit:

Leju Robotics (Stand 115) from China is featuring what we all imagine a robot to be. The bipedal Aelos 1s can walk, dance and play football. And in carrying out all these actions it responds to spoken commands. But it also challenges young researchers to apply their creativity in programming it and teaching it new actions. And conversely, it also imparts scholastic knowledge.

Cubroid (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Korea starts off by promoting an independent approach to the way it deals with tasks. Multi-functional cubes, glowing as they play music, or equipped with a tiny rotating motor, join together like Lego pieces. Configuration and programming are thus combined, providing a basic idea of what constitutes artificial intelligence.

Spain is represented by Ebotics (Stand 218). This company is presenting an entire portfolio of building components, including the “Mint” educational program. The modular system explains about modern construction, programming and the entire field of robotics.

Elematec Corporation (Stand 208) from Japan is presenting the two-armed SCARA, which is not intended to deal with any tasks, but in particular to assist people with their work.

Everybot (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Japan approaches the concept of robotics by introducing an autonomous floor-cleaning machine, similar to a robot vacuum cleaner.

And Segway (Stand 222) is using a number of products to explain the modern approach to battery-powered locomotion.

IFA will take place at the Berlin Exhibition Grounds (ExpoCenter City) from 6 to 11 September 2019. For more information, visit www.ifa-berlin.com

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