US government-funded phones come with pre-installed malware2020-01-13 14:54 by Daniela
Tags: malware, Sprint, Malwarebytes
Low-end smartphones sold to Americans with low-income via a government-subsidized program contain unremovable malware, security firm Malwarebytes said today in a report. Sprint's Assurance Wireless offers its most affordable Android smartphone, the Chinese-made UMX, for only $35 with free data, texts and minutes through the government support program Lifeline.
"In late 2019, we saw several complaints in our support system from users with a government-issued phone reporting that some of its pre-installed apps were malicious," Malwarebytes said in a report published today.
The company said it purchased a UMX U686CL smartphone and analyzed it to confirm the reports it was receiving. The UMX U686CL came with an app called "Wireless Update" pre-installed. Although the app does allow people to update the phone's software, it can also be used to install other apps without the owner's permission and MalwareBytes said it's actually a variant of the rightly maligned Adups software for Android.
Adups isn't the only malicious component found on the device. Malwarebytes also discovered "suspicious code" in the phone's Settings app which looks to be setup to deliver adware called HiddenAds. When taken together you have a device capable of stealing user data without their knowledge while also serving them aggressive advertising.
MalwareBytes noted that the UMX U686CL isn't the only budget smartphone that comes with malware pre-installed. The security company said it only expects that problem to get worse, too.
"We are aware of this issue and are in touch with the device manufacturer Unimax to understand the root cause," Assurance Wireless said in a statement Friday. "However, after our initial testing we do not believe the applications described in the media are malware."
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