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How does Exaspy spyware disguise itself on Android devices?

Exaspy spyware, which can access messages, video chats and more, was found on Android devices owned by executives. Expert Nick Lewis explains how Exaspy is able to avoid detection.

Researchers have discovered Android spyware called Exaspy being used to intercept phone-based communications on...

executives' devices, including phone calls, text messages, video chats and photos. Most mobile security scanners have not been able to detect the spyware. How does Exaspy disguise itself and evade detection?

Malware comes in many different forms, such as adware, spyware and unauthorized remote administration tools.

Malware being sold to monitor mobile devices is not a new problem. Sometimes, the only difference between malware and a legitimate security program is how they are used. It is common for security programs to go undetected by antimalware tools because these programs are assumed to be legitimate, and, if detected, the programs may not be reported as being potentially malicious to an antimalware vendor for investigation.

The Android spyware Exaspy, discovered by researchers at Skycure Inc., appears to straddle this fine line between malware and a seemingly legitimate tool. Exaspy can be used to intercept phone-based communications, record audio, steal data from the endpoint and connect to a command-and-control server. Skycure first discovered Exaspy on the Android device owned by one of the vice presidents of a global technology company.

Physical access to a phone is needed to install Exaspy. Once it's installed, it uses the name Google Services to avoid the suspicion of a user looking through the installed applications. It asks for a license key, and then it disables its main activity component to hide from the launcher. Exaspy is able to execute shell commands in order to elevate its privileges.

The researchers do not know how the spyware got on the endpoint, and it doesn't appear to be available via the Google Play Store.

Skycure recommends implementing PIN codes and fingerprint authentication on Android devices, disabling USB debugging and making sure OEM unlocking is turned off. Other defense tactics include doing regular checks on the device administrators list, disabling suspicious components, avoiding apps offered through untrusted app stores and not granting special permissions to apps that don't need them.

Next Steps

Find out how the Overseer spyware works on infected Android applications

Learn how Twitter accounts are being used as command-and-control servers to spread malware

Read about spyware that was preinstalled on budget Android devices

This was last published in April 2017

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