Built-in malware discovered in Chinese phones sold in Africa

Thousands of Tecno phones sold in Africa have malicious codes installed which subscribe for services without the user’s permission

Malware which signs users up to subscription services automatically has been found on thousands of mobile phones sold in Africa.

The anti-fraud firm Upstream found the malicious code on 53,000 Tecno handsets sold in Ethiopia, Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana and South Africa. Upstream said codes installed in the phones signed users up to subscription services without their permission.

The head of Upstream’s Secure-D platform, Geoffrey Cleaves, said the malware is designed to take advantage of the “most vulnerable”, most of whom are from low-income households.

“The fact that the malware arrives pre-installed on handsets that are bought in their millions by typically low-income households tells you everything you need to know about what the industry is currently up against,” he said.

Suspicious activity

Upstream discovered that the Triada malware, found by the firm on the Android smartphones, installs a malicious code known as xHelper.

Without the users’ knowledge, this malware is able to find subscription services and submits fraudulent requests on behalf of users.

In this way, the company “steals” money from users, because the subscriptions consume pre-paid airtime when successful.

According to Upstream, “suspicious activity” was found on over 200,000 Tecno smartphones sold in Africa.

Transsion, the manufacturer of Tecno phones, has denied knowledge of the malware installed in ita supply chain.

Transsion Holdings is one of China’s leading phone manufacturers and is the top-selling mobile manufacturer in Africa.

Defence for data security

Meanwhile, Tecno Mobile says it takes the data security of its customers very seriously. The firm described the issue of malware in its phones as “an old and solved mobile security issue globally”.

Tecno Mobile said it issued a fix in March 2018, emphasising that it attaches “great importance to consumers’ data security and product safety”.

“For current W2 consumers that are potentially facing Triada issues now, they are highly recommended to download the over-the-air fix through their phone for installation, or contact Tecno’s after-sales service support for assistance in any questions,” the firm told the BBC.

“Every single software installed on each device runs through a series of rigorous security checks, such as our own security scan platform,” it added.

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