North Korean hackers are using Android apps with malware to target the country's defectors, according to researchers from security software firm McAfee.
The Android apps, which were detected as Google Play Store malware, go beyond the usual unwanted advertisements and attempted scams. The apps track and blackmail the targets for escaping North Korea.
North Korea Launches Targeted Malware Attacks
A North Korea hacking team was recently able to upload three Android apps to the Google Play Store that targeted people who escaped from the authoritarian country, according to a report from McAfee.
The team behind the attacks was Sun Team, instead of the more infamous Lazarus, which was previously linked to the WannaCry ransomware from a year ago. This was not Sun Team's first attempt at this kind of attack though. In January, McAfee spotted the same attempt, but it required the targets go out of their way and download the apps with malware outside of the Google Play Store.
The malware campaign, nicknamed RedDawn, involved the hackers contacting the targets through Facebook to invite them to install seemingly innocent apps from the Google Play Store. Compared to the first attempt, the new method of attack may have been more convincing, as the apps were downloaded from the official app store for Android devices.
Google Play Store Malware Harasses North Korea Defectors
The three apps were uploaded to the Google Play Store between January and March. The first app was Food Ingredients Info, which offered information on food, true to its name. The second and third apps were FastAppLock and Fast AppLock Free, which functioned as security tools.
The apps, however, were laced with malware. Once installed, the malware used Dropbox and Yandex to upload data and issue commands. The hackers were able to steal their targets' personal data, which could then be used to track, threaten, and blackmail them.
It is unclear, however, how effective the apps were. They have now been removed from the Google Play Store after McAfee contacted Google, but only after recording about 100 downloads. McAfee said that it was able to identify the malware early on, and that there have been no public reports of being infected with them.
Being careful in downloading apps does not only apply to North Korean defectors though. Targeted malware attacks may come in any form, so users will need to be very cautious with the apps that they install, even if they come from the Google Play Store.