Skip to main content

Russian Android malware infects millions of phones, drains bank accounts

Can cops and hackers track your phone
Hackers used mobile malware to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from bank customers. That’s according to Reuters, which reported on May 22 that cybercriminals tricked Russian users of Google’s Android operating system into downloading malicious apps.

The group of 16 Russian hackers, operating under the code name “Cron” after the malware they used, disguised the malware as fake banking applications and pornography web clients. When Android users in Russia searched online, the search engine results would suggest the fake apps.

The core members of the group were arrested on November 22 last year, before they could mount attacks outside Russia. But according to Group-IB, the cyber security firm investigating the attack with the Russian Interior Ministry, the Cron group infected more than a million smartphones in Russia at a rate of 3,500 devices a day.

“Cron’s success was due to two main factors,” Dmitry Volkov, head of investigations at Group-IB, said in a statement. “First, the large-scale use of partner programs to distribute the malware in different ways. Second, the automation of many (mobile) functions which allowed them to carry out the thefts without direct involvement.”

They targeted customers of Sberbank, Alfa Bank, and online payments company Qiwi, exploiting SMS text message transfer services. The group sent texts from infected devices instructing the banks to transfer money to the hackers’ accounts — up to $120 to one of the 6,000 fraudulent accounts. And they intercepted the transaction confirmation codes, preventing the victims from receiving a messages notifying them about the transaction.

They’d planned to go after large European banks including French lenders Credit Agricole, BNP Paribas, and Societe General, according to Group-IB.

Cron malware, which was first detected in mid-2015, had been in use for more than a year before the arrests. The Russian hackers rented a “Tiny.z,” a piece of malware designed to attack checking accounts systems, for $2,000 a month in June 2016, and adapted it to target European banks in Britain, Germany, France, the United States, and Turkey, among other countries.

Lukas Stefanko, a malware researcher at cyber security firm ESET in Slovakia, told Reuters that the exploit highlighted the dangers of SMS messages in mobile banking.

“It’s becoming popular among developing nations or in the countryside where access to conventional banking is difficult for people,” he said. “For them it is quick, easy, and they don’t need to visit a bank … But security always has to outweigh consumer convenience.”

Editors' Recommendations

Kyle Wiggers
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Kyle Wiggers is a writer, Web designer, and podcaster with an acute interest in all things tech. When not reviewing gadgets…
5 Android camera features that I need to have on my iPhone
iPhone 14 Pro and Google Pixel 7 Pro.

One of my favorite things to do with my iPhone 14 Pro is to take photos. Whether it’s part of my attempt to be artsy by snapping spontaneous moments with my husband and daughter, or just capturing the magic at Disneyland, I have a ton of photos. Though I don’t have time to edit every single one, I do like to spend time making edits on my favorites just to improve how they look before I post them on social media. But the built-in tools on the iPhone for taking photos and editing them are, well, lacking.

I’ve been testing a few different Android devices since I joined Digital Trends, and let me tell you — it’s been a trip. I’ve discovered so many new photo and camera tools on various Android devices that just show how much Apple is behind in that regard, despite being one of the most popular devices for mobile photography.

Read more
Here’s what Android phones might have looked like without the iPhone
Render of Google G1 (aka Dream) supplied by Android co-founder Rich Miner.

Have you ever wondered what kind of phones we would have today if Apple didn't introduce the iPhone to the world? Thanks to some new info from Android co-founder Rich Minder, we sort of have an answer to that.

Miner wrote a Twitter thread Monday evening calling out an error made in an article published by Business Insider. He said that in 2005, Google and Android — the latter of whom was acquired by the former company at the time — were concerned about Microsoft dominating mobile phones the same way it dominated PCs with the launch of Windows Mobile. In response, Android pitched Sooner and Dream, two phones that would act as "small computers in your pocket, broadening access and enriching their services with location."

Read more
Google is paying a historic $85 million fine after illegally tracking Android phones
Google Logo

Google will be paying Arizona $85 million in a settlement over a 2020 lawsuit that claimed the company was illegally tracking Android users for targeted advertising.

According to a report from Bloomberg, Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed a lawsuit in May 2020 claiming that Google violated the state's Consumer Fraud Act by gathering location data from Android users, even after people turned off their location settings. At the time, Google's own employees were confused about its privacy controls, admitting that it could use some fine-tuning so that when users deny the company permission to track their data, it has to respect their decision.

Read more