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3/21/2014
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New Android Remote Access Tool Highlights Growing Market For Mobile Spyware

Researchers discuss the growing market for remote access tools used to target Google Android devices

An attack armed with a remote access tool (RAT) for Google Android devices was recently discovered targeting a financial institution.

The so-called WinSpy spy tool, which is sold openly on the Web, was spied by FireEye being used in a phishing attack against an unidentified financial organization in the U.S., with a surprising twist -- it was not just going after Windows users.

Security experts say the widespread adoption of mobile devices has created a new market for remote access tools to target smartphone platforms.

This version of WinSpy featured various spying components for Android that has been dubbed "GimmeRat." The capabilities allow a victim's smartphone to be controlled by either another mobile device via SMS messages or alternatively through a Windows-based controller.

"With the increasing number of mobile devices, it is hard to say what the market is," says FireEye researcher Hitesh Dharmdasani. "But the attention toward these devices is ever-increasing."

The RAT capabilities of WinSpy put it into a category of a growing number of similar tools being used to target Google Android users.

"There is a free Android RAT called AndroRAT that is popular," says Nart Villeneueve, also of FireEye. "While the RAT is free, the binder [AndroBinder] is $43. There was another Android RAT known as Dendroid that was advertised on forums for $300, but does not seem to be available anymore. The author of Dendroid is reportedly working on a new Android RAT. There is another RAT known as Unrecom RAT -- previously known as Adwind RAT -- that has Android capabilities. It sells for $200 to $500."

These tools, he says, are being marketed on underground forums. There are a variety of tutorials that explain how to use them, and, judging by the responses on the forums, there appears to be considerable demand, he says.

Grayson Milbourne, director of security intelligence for Webroot, notes that there has been an increase in RATs just like there has been in every other category of malicious Android apps.

"One thing to consider," he says, "is that many of these apps are sold under the category of ‘tracking’ apps, such as track your kids, or track your spouse. In any event, these apps provide access to what’s on the device, such as SMS/phone history, GPS tracking, browser history, etc. -- and while they mostly do not offer direct control over the device, being able to record all data from the device is sufficient for compromise."

Overall, there has been a maturing of cybercrime-as-a-service offerings for mobile devices during the past two years, says Milbourne.

"Services range from malicious app creation, app binding, app market placement, trusted developer credentials, botnet hosting, SMS phishing/flooding, and telephony-based services -- just to name a few," he says. "We consider the rate of these services popping up as a clear indicator that there is a strong focus on compromising mobile devices -- and for good reason, considering the quantity of data and poor security on most mobile devices."

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Brian Prince is a freelance writer for a number of IT security-focused publications. Prior to becoming a freelance reporter, he worked at eWEEK for five years covering not only security, but also a variety of other subjects in the tech industry. Before that, he worked as a ... View Full Bio

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