Are you tired yet of the music track “Despacito”? If you downloaded this ringtone app from Google Play, chances are your answer is a resounding Yes. But it gets worse: The McAfee Mobile Research team recently found 15 apps on Google Play that were uploaded by the AsiaHitGroup Gang. The ringtone app was one of them—downloaded 50,000 times from the official app store—that were designed to steal money from their victims. The AsiaHitGroup Gang has been active since at least 2016, attempting to charge 20,000 victims for the download of popular mobile applications containing the fake-installer app Sonvpay.A. For more analysis, see the Mobile Research team’s post.
Ordinarily we advise users to review the requested permissions before installing a mobile app, and normally this is enough. In this case, the only permission requested was access to SMS messages, and once installed the app behaved as expected. In the background, however, Sonvpay silently used the push notification service to subscribe users to premium-rate services.
This campaign displays a significant level of customization. The criminals can tailor their fraud to the country of their choosing. In our analysis we looked at mobile billing fraud targeting users in Kazakhstan, Malaysia, and Russia. In Kazakhstan victims are subscribed to a premium-rate service whereas in Malaysia and Russia they are connected to a WAP billing service. Further, the criminals recognize that in Malaysia the mobile operator sends a PIN code, so the attackers include functionality to intercept the SMS. Once intercepted, the app communicates with the mobile operator to subscribe to the service.
This group began targeting users in Asia, but the move to Russia shows its increasing ambition. The goal of the AsiaHitGroup Gang remains the same, but the manner in which they attempt to achieve their ends differs per campaign, and their techniques are improving. Although the security industry focuses much attention on “loud” and destructive attacks, many campaigns quietly steal funds from unsuspecting victims or those who have little visibility into what is happening.