New Android malware designed to sneak into networks

New malware for the Android operating system is being delivered via what are called drive-by downloads from infected websites and could be used to gain access to private networks when the Android users connect to them.

It apparently is the first time infected websites, which have often distributed malware to PCs, have been used to attack Android devices, researchers at Lookout Mobile Security said in a blog post.

The malware, a Trojan horse dubbed NotCompatible also arrives as employees, including some in government, are increasingly using their personal mobile devices on the job.

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Even if this type of malware turns out to be a sign of things to come, however, Lookout researchers expect the impact of NotCompatible to be relatively low; users must install the downloaded application for their device to be compromised, and the infected websites delivering the malware don’t get a lot of traffic.

Lookout, which provides Android antivirus software, said NotCompatible doesn’t appear to cause any harm to the smart phone or other Android device but could be used to “to gain illicit access to private networks by turning an infected Android device into a proxy.”

The compromised websites have a hidden iFrame at the bottom of each page, Lookout said. When an Android user visits the site, the browser begins downloading NotCompatible. But, as is typical of drive-by downloads, the user must then install the app in order to be infected. The user will get a prompt to install the app, and the installation will work only if the device has its “unknown sources” setting enabled, Lookout said.

Nevertheless, this type of malware could be a concern to system administrators. It is clearly intended to access private networks, which is significant because it “could potentially be used to gain access to normally protected information or systems, such as those maintained by enterprise or government,” the researchers said.
The growing popularity of Android and other smart phones and tablets has predictably attracted the attention of hackers, whose attacks potentially threaten enterprises as well as individual users. A recent study by ESET and Harris Interactive found that 81 percent of people polled said they use their personal devices for work — and often to access or store company information — and most of them don’t take security precautions.

The “bring your own device,” or BYOD, practice has also spread to government. A survey last year by Dell KACE found that 77 percent of government IT professionals polled said employees were using personal mobile devices at work, and 63 percent said employees were using smart phones on the job.

According to the survey, 67 percent of them said they weren’t sure they knew about all of the personal devices being used.

Federal agencies currently are in the process of drafting BYOD policies in order to get a handle on how the devices are used.

Meanwhile, users can help by taking basic security steps, such as using anti-virus and other protective software, enabling features such as auto-lock, and, as in the case of Android users for NotCompatible, being very wary of any third-party app that doesn’t come from the official Google Play market.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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