DOZENS of apps allegedly connected to US spy agencies have been ripped off the Google Play Store to secretly collect data.
According to the Wall Street Journalthe software was downloaded by millions of people and included several Muslim prayer apps.
The software tracked GPS data and collected people’s phone numbers and email addresses.
The code discovered in the apps was written by Panamanian company Measurement Systems S. de RL, cyber researchers wrote this week.
The firm is associated through corporate records and web registrations with a Virginia defense contractor that works for the US National Security Agency.
That work includes cyber intelligence, network defense and intelligence interception, the WSJ reported.
The data vacuum cleaner code was unearthed by two researchers performing auditing work to look for vulnerabilities in Andriod apps.
University of Calgary researcher Joel Reardon and Serge Egelman, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, published theirs Results On Wednesday.
The code has not only been spotted in Muslim prayer apps, but also in a highway speed camera detection app, a QR code reading app, and a number of other popular consumer apps.
According to app developers, Measurement Systems has paid developers worldwide to integrate its software development kit into apps.
It allowed the company to collect data from millions of users around the world, the WSJ reported.
According to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Measurement Systems told developers that they specifically wanted data from the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe, and Asia.
Overall, apps containing the spyware were downloaded to more than 60 million devices.
Reardon and Egelman shared their findings with federal privacy agencies and the Wall Street Journal.
In addition to GPS data, phone numbers and email addresses, the code could also collect information from a phone’s clipboard, including passwords.
It also has the ability to scan parts of the phone system including files stored in WhatsApp downloads folder.
SPYWARE APPS DISCLOSED
Researchers uncovered dozens of apps siphoning data. They published the names of 11 in their report.
- speed camera radar
- Al-Moazin Lite (Prayer Times)
- WiFi Mouse (Remote Control PC)
- QR and barcode scanner
- Qibla Compass – Ramadan 2022
- Simple weather and clock widget
- Handcent Next SMS text with MMS
- SmartKit 360
- Al Quran Mp3 – 50 Reciters & Translation Audio
- Complete Quran MP3 – 50+ Languages & Translation Audio
- Audiosdroid Audio Studio DAW – Apps on Google Play
“A database that maps someone’s actual email address and phone number with their precise GPS location history is particularly scary,” Reardon wrote.
“It could easily be used to operate a service to look up a person’s location history simply by knowing their phone number or email address, which could be used to target journalists, dissidents or political rivals.”
Apps running the shady software were removed from the Google Play Store on March 25.
However, Google’s action does not prevent Measurement System from continuing to collect data from millions of phones that already have its software installed.
A Google spokesperson said the apps could return to the Store if the software is removed.
According to Reardon and Egelman, the software’s developers stopped collecting data about its users and split up shortly after the pair began disseminating their findings.
The Department of Defense previously said it “purchases publicly and commercially available data to aid in the analysis of foreign threats to national security.”
Measurement Systems has denied all allegations about the company’s activities, claiming it has no known links to US defense contractors.
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https://www.thesun.ie/tech/8621081/google-play-store-bans-spy-apps-us-government/ Google warning after banning dozens of ‘spy apps with US government ties’ – check your phone now