Unremovable Malware Found on LifeLine Phones.
The UMX U686CL, an Android phone provided in the Lifeline program, comes preinstalled with malware that can’t be removed without making the device cease to work, researchers reported.
Manufactured in China, the phone is provided by Virgin Mobile’s Assurance Wireless program.
Researchers at Malwarebytes said on Thursday that the device comes with at least 2 malware programs. Representatives of Sprint, the most recent owner of Virgin Mobile, said it didn’t believe the apps were malicious.
The first can install adware and other unwanted apps without the knowledge or permission of the user. Android/Trojan.Dropper.Agent.UMX contains striking similarities to two other trojan droppers.
Once the library is loaded into memory, it installs ad software – it aggressively displays ads. Malwarebytes researcher Nathan Collier said company users have reported that the hidden library installs a variant of HiddenAds, but the researchers were unable to reproduce that installation, possibly because the library waits some amount of time before doing so.
The malware that installs these programs is hidden in the phone’s settings app. That makes it virtually impossible to uninstall, since the phone can’t operate properly without it.
Uninstall the Settings app, and you just made yourself a pricey paper weight
The second malware is something called Wireless Update. While it provides a mechanism for downloading and installing phone updates, it also loads unwanted apps without permission. “From the moment you log into the mobile device, Wireless Update starts auto-installing apps… it just installs apps on its own.” said Collier.
While all of the installed apps Malwarebytes examined were clean and free of malware, the presence of a feature that automatically installs apps poses an unacceptable risk.
When asked, Sprint officials said:
We are aware of this issue and are in touch with the device manufacturer Unimax to understand the root cause, however, after our initial testing we do not believe the applications described in the media are malware.
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