As many as 25 million Android phones have been hit with malware that replaces installed apps like WhatsApp with evil versions that serve up adverts, cybersecurity researchers warned Wednesday.
Dubbed Agent Smith, the malware abuses previously-known weaknesses in the Android operating system, making updating to the latest, patched version of Google’s operating system a priority, Israeli security company Check Point said.
Most victims are based in India, where as many as 15 million were infected. But there are more than 300,000 in the U.S., with another 137,000 in the U.K., making this one of the more severe threats to have hit Google’s operating system in recent memory.
The malware has spread via a third party app store 9apps.com, which is owned by China’s Alibaba, rather than the official Google Play store. Typically, such non-Google Play attacks focus on developing countries, making the hackers’ success in the U.S. and the U.K. more remarkable, Check Point said.
Whilst the replaced apps will serve up malicious ads, whoever’s behind the hacks could do worse, Check Point warned in a blog. “Due to its ability to hide it’s icon from the launcher and impersonates any popular existing apps on a device, there are endless possibilities for this sort of malware to harm a user’s device,” the researchers wrote.
They said they’d warned Google and the relevant law enforcement agencies. Google hadn’t provided comment at the time of publication.