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China's mobile underground revealed in new report

App rank boosting, to premium TXT abuse and much, much more at very reasonable prices

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China plays host to a vast and highly sophisticated “mobile underground” where cyber criminals can buy the tools to launch attacks for as little as 100 yuan (£9.70), according to a new report from security vendor Trend Micro.

The Mobile Cybercriminal Underground Market in China is the firm's follow up to two separate reports on China’s darknet and its 2012 study, Russian Underground 101.

The new report details a world in which the means to launch attacks are cheaper and easier to get hold of than ever before, while the criminals themselves increasingly hide their activities from prying eyes on the deep Web.

Many of the attack products and services favoured by Chinese gangs and listed by Trend Micro will be familiar to security watchers.

These include premium service abuser apps which sign the victim up to expensive, unwanted services. The outlay for a premium service number alone can apparently cost the cyber criminal as much as 220,000 yuan (£21,400).

Also mentioned in the report are “SMS Forwarder” Trojans, which intercept 2FA passcodes sent by banks or online service providers, to help the attacker crack online accounts; and SMS spam.

To launch mobile spam campaigns, Chinese criminals can either invest in a GSM modem, or for greater volumes an “internet short message gateway” or SMS server.

The latter apparently sends out a high power signal which forces all mobiles in the area to disconnect from their legitimate base station and connect to it – after which it pushes out large volumes of spam.

Apple users in China are also at risk from attack, with iMessage spammers able to “buy” 1,000 message spam services for as little 100 yuan (£9.70).

Another necessary tool is software to scan multiple sets of phone numbers and thereby ensure they’re linked to an Apple ID and are still working. This will set you back 30,000 yuan (£2,900).

Aside from phone scanning services, which are an essential first step on the road to a successful spam campaign, the Chinese underground is also awash with app rank-boosting services for sale, said Trend Micro.

These are important if a malware writer wants their malicious apps to be disseminated as far and wide as possible.

The report explained:

Cyber criminals usually boost an app’s ranking by creating several dummy accounts to download and write good user reviews for it. This is especially true for Android apps in third-party app stores in China. Doing so is, however, costly.

To get an iPhone app in the top five of Apple’s China App Store will set you back a cool 60,000 yuan (£5,800).

In Android third party stores – where most Chinese users shop as Google Play is very limited there – cyber criminals can pay according to the number of downloads they want.

This starts at just 40 yuan (£3.90) for 10,000 downloads. ®

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