We’ve seen Android malware that takes your photos and videos for ransom, and there’s one that can mimic your phone’s shutdown process and spy on you even though the phone appears to be off.
But a new family of malware, detailed by security firm Lookout on Wednesday, is probably the scariest we’ve heard of: It’s so hard to remove that, in some cases, victims might be better off just buying a new device.
Lookout’s researchers have found 20,000 samples of three pieces of malware, named Shedun, Shuanet, and ShiftyBug, which share a lot of the same code and use similar tactics to infect the victim’s phone. Once installed — usually from a third-party app store — these apps root the victim’s device, embed themselves as system-level services, and shapeshift into legitimate, popular apps, including Facebook, Candy Crush, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp and others.
What makes these apps especially ominous is their relatively tame level of activity. Once they repackage a legitimate app, they leave most of its functionality intact. The idea is that, with root privileges, this malware could be used for delivering other types of adware and malware onto users’ devices
with root privileges, this malware could be used for delivering other types of adware and malware onto users’ devices. Besides that, having a rogue piece of malware with system-level access on your phone is extremely dangerous for both your online security and privacy.
Even worse, once infected, it’s very hard to remove these types of malware. “For individuals, getting infected with Shedun, Shuanet, and ShiftyBug might mean a trip to the store to buy a new phone,” wrote Lookout’s Michael Bentley in a blog post.
Bentley does not go into details, except to suggest that seeking out professional help to remove the malware might do the trick. In a reply to a user comment on his post, however, he does claim that a factory reset of an infected device would not remove this malware. In a discussion on Ars Technica‘s comment section, several users suggested one way to get rid of it would be reflashing the device’s ROM chip, but most users don’t have the technical prowess to do so.
Interestingly enough, even though this type of malware spreads through third-party app stores, Lookout has found the greatest number of infections in the United States and Germany (where users typically install apps from Google Play), as well as Iran, Russia, India, Jamaica, Sudan, Brazil, Mexico, and Indonesia.
If you have an Android phone, the best course of action is to avoid third-party app stores and only install apps from Google Play.