Consumer, Consumer Threat Notices

Buyer Beware: This Smartphone Comes with Malware Pre-Loaded

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By on Jun 19, 2014

The Star N9500 is, by all means, an inoffensive clone of a better-designed smartphone. Its body, and many of its features, are seemingly lifted from Samsung’s Galaxy S4 smartphone. It uses cheaper, lower-quality parts but supplants these defects with an enticing offer: a $217 price tag, according to Boy Genius Report. It is, for the bargain hunter in all of us, a good find.

Except for one thing: this knock-off smartphone (which was being sold on Amazon and eBay) comes with factory-loaded malicious software. That’s right, dangerous malware—software built to spy on you, your activities, and your private information such as passwords and credit card information—comes preloaded on this knockoff phone.

How this malware found itself on the Star N9500 is unknown, but two paths are suspected: either the malware’s creators found a path onto the device through lax security at the manufacturer, or the manufacturer purposefully loaded the malware onto these devices.

So what does this malware do, exactly? The malware is disguised as a fake app, like many instances of mobile malware, and it relays personal data on the phone to a server. The malware can also install additional apps that can track your location; intercept and record phone calls; make purchases on your behalf; send premium text messages without your knowledge; and, potentially compromise your bank account. That’s some serious malware.

And here’s the kicker: since the malware is factory-loaded into the device’s firmware users have no way of uninstalling the malicious software from their devices.

So how does one avoid the fate of purchasing a malicious smartphone? Here are a few ways:

  • Stick with known brands. The best way to avoid this fate is to not buy a knockoff phone. Yes, paying for a full-featured, brand name phone will cost you a bit more, but its security is cheap when compared to purchasing a device that’s loaded with malware. If you want a premium phone without premium prices, try buying used or refurbished phones from approved resellers.
  • Always check for professional reviews. One reason why the Star N9500 flew under the radar for a period of time is because it appeared to have legitimate consumer reviews on Amazon and similar websites—most of those reviews are likely fake. If you’re planning on ordering a device from an online e-tailer, check out the big tech publications like PC Mag, CNET or Engadget for professional device reviews. 
  • Install comprehensive security on your device. Even with premium devices, security isn’t guaranteed. By loading a security application, like McAfee LiveSafe™ service onto your device, you’re protecting your investment from the unknown. McAfee LiveSafe™ protects your data, identity and all your devices with cross-device antivirus, identity theft protection, and more. Additionally, McAfee® Mobile Security, which is free for both Android and iOS, provides backup and recovery for contacts. Android users can also use McAfee Mobile Security to remotely wipe data in the event of a lost or stolen phone.

And, of course, stay on top of the latest consumer and mobile security threats by following @McAfeeConsumer on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.

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