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Researchers warn of preloaded spyware in Android handsets

That off-brand Chinese smartphone you bought on eBay might not be secure

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Security firm G-Data is warning users about their discovery of malware shipping preinstalled on some Chinese mobile phones.

The German researchers said that they followed up on customer tips to study the Star N9500 mobile phone. The handsets, sold on eBay and many other online retail sites, are said to primarily be shipped out of China, and can be loosely described as a clone of the Samsung Galaxy S4.

While G-Data said that it has been unable to track down the company behind the N9500, the security firm believes that one or more organizations are selling the handsets new with malware bundled in.

The company said in its report that researchers have spotted a spyware bundle on handsets being offered for sale in Europe at costs ranging from €130 to €165. The Android handsets were found to contain a fake copy of the Google Play app and the Uupay.D Android trojan installed directly in the handset's firmware.

Researchers believe that the malware performs a number of basic spyware functions such as listening in on phone and SMS conversations, reading email messages, and collecting mobile browsing information and account data.

G-Data reported that the infected handset it studied was uploading user information to a server in China, though the location of the person(s) actually extracting the data was not known.

The report comes as Android malware continues to rise. Apple boss Tim Cook recently gloated over a mobile security situation for Android he called a "hellstew" of malware.

Last week, researchers with Kaspersky noted that malware writers in Russia have been repackaging their ransomware trojans to target mobile phone users in the US.

China, which has long had a strong market for domestically produced "clone" hardware and devices, has also seen an underground market for attack tools and services arise in recent years. ®

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