So, if you are a fan of mobile and online gaming, then chances are you're familiar with the titles "Angry Birds Star Wars" and "Grand Theft Auto". Both of these games have become widely popular on mobile devices, including Android phones, and unfortunately have become the bait for a new SMS spam botnet, plaguing Android users around the globe.
The spammers it seems have built an interesting botnet that sends SMS spam to other users when the Android device, such as a Galaxy S3 or Nexus 7, becomes infected. Though the fact that one's device has become compromised and controlled in such a way is unsettling enough, to make matters worse, this compromise can have further reaching consequences than one might realize. These consequences can include responsibility to pay for SMS messages sent and phones suddenly losing their service due to unknown spamming happening from their device.
Because victims are completely unaware that their devices have been compromised, this kind of SMS spamming is new and has posed a problem for Android operators, leaving them no other choice but to shut down accounts which show signs of abuse, such as SMS spamming.
Though Android operators are searching for ways to resolve the problem, for now, shutting down the offending accounts seems the only viable solution.
So where this is SMS spam botnet originating from?
According to security specialist Cloudmark, the server issuing the spam is located in Hong Kong, China, where it hosts the two Android games in question, "Angry Birds Star Wars" and "Grand Theft Auto." Both of these popular games have been infected with malware, allowing malicious servers to connect to the phones, creating a botnet. Once comprimised, instructions are delivers to the Android device and the SMS spamming begins.
Once the Android device is fully under control of the rogue sever, joining the string of botnets or compromised Android devices, the victim's phone is then sent a list of roughly 50 phone numbers and a spam-ready text message to entice more victims to join the botnet fold.
Here is what spam messages may look like, according to thenextweb.com:
"You've just won a $1000 Target gift card but only the 1st 1000 people that enter code 7777 at hxxp://holyoffers.com can claim it!"
"Download Grand Theft Auto 3 & Need for Speed Most Wanted for Android phones for free at hxxp://trendingoffers.com for next 24hrs only!"
"Tired of SMS Spam? Download our free SMS Blocker today to finally rid you of unwanted messages! Download now athttp://[redacted].com"
Of course, these are only a few examples. To be honest, I witnessed one of these myself a week or two back on my husband's device. He came to me quite excited one day, telling me he'd won a $2,000 gift certificate from Best Buy, and he had to visit a link to claim it. Thankfully, he wanted me to see if it was legit before visiting. Upon looking at it, immediately I noticed signs that it was a scam. For example, the web address read: www.bb-rewardcard.com
Now I've seen a lot of websites, and generally, when they are truly associated with the real source it will look more like this: www.bestbuy.com/rewards
The domain would be the main website, with the reward link being a page inside of that site. When we called the Best Buy store to confirm, we found it was in fact a scam.
But anyway, back to the Android story.
So for those unfortunate enough to be infected with the SMS spam botnet, users could expect that even if the device is shut down, upon reboot, the malware re-installs itself as a service on the phone.
Though spamming through SMS (short message service) is certainly nothing unheard of in the mobile world, targeting individuals and using their infected devices is new. In the past, spamming was a lot more trouble. SIM card had to be purchased and used up one by one as they got shut down by operators, so that the spammer did have some cost incurred. However, by now capturing victims and delegating the dirty work to them, SMS spammers can work their plans at little cost, and no immediate consequences. These kinds of scams pose a real problem for less savvy mobile users, while giving spammers a wider range of reach. Using this method, spammers send spam to the far corners of the earth, one infected device at a time. Plus, in the end, it's the victim who pays the price. This price can be fees incurred for sending SMS messages on certain plans, to the loss of phones service and a lot of time, trying to resolve the issue.
The take away message here is this: If you are a mobile user, particularly one who utilize Android devices, please be extremely careful about what you download. If a deal or message sounds too good to be true, there's a good chance it is. With the holiday season upon us, it's typical to see scams take victims unaware. Here's hoping that your holiday will be botnet free and full of friends and family, not SMS spammed messages.
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