Google removes fake Signal and Telegram apps hosted on Play


Mateusz Slodkowski/SOPA Photographs/LightRocket by way of Getty Photographs

Researchers on Wednesday stated they discovered faux apps in Google Play that masqueraded as reliable ones for the Sign and Telegram messaging platforms. The malicious apps might pull messages or different delicate info from reliable accounts when customers took sure actions.

An app with the title Sign Plus Messenger was out there on Play for 9 months and had been downloaded from Play roughly 100 occasions earlier than Google took it down final April after being tipped off by safety agency ESET. It was additionally out there within the Samsung app retailer and on signalplus[.]org, a devoted web site mimicking the official An app calling itself FlyGram, in the meantime, was created by the identical menace actor and was out there by way of the identical three channels. Google eliminated it from Play in 2021. Each apps stay out there within the Samsung retailer.

Each apps have been constructed on open supply code out there from Sign and Telegram. Interwoven into that code was an espionage device tracked as BadBazaar. The Trojan has been linked to a China-aligned hacking group tracked as GREF. BadBazaar has been used beforehand to focus on Uyghurs and different Turkic ethnic minorities. The FlyGram malware was additionally shared in a Uyghur Telegram group, additional aligning it to earlier focusing on by the BadBazaar malware household.

Sign Plus might monitor despatched and obtained messages and contacts if folks related their contaminated machine to their reliable Sign quantity, as is regular when somebody first installs Sign on their machine. Doing so brought about the malicious app to ship a number of personal info to the attacker, together with the machine IMEI quantity, telephone quantity, MAC deal with, operator particulars, location information, Wi-Fi info, emails for Google accounts, contact listing, and a PIN used to switch texts within the occasion one was arrange by the person.

The next screenshot reveals the knowledge in transit from the contaminated machine to the attacker server:

BadBazaar uploading device information to its C&C server.
Enlarge / BadBazaar importing machine info to its C&C server.


Sign Plus additionally abused a reliable Sign characteristic that hyperlinks the machine working sign to a desktop or iPad in order that customers can ship and obtain texts throughout a wider vary of gadgets. The linking course of requires a person to obtain the desktop or iPad app and, as soon as put in, use it to show a QR code that hyperlinks to a singular key, reminiscent of sgnl://linkdevice?uuid=fV2MLK3P_FLFJ4HOpA&pub_key=1cCVJIyt2uPJK4fWvXt0m6XEBN02qJG7pcpercent2BmvQa. Sign Plus represents the primary recognized case of an app spying on a sufferer’s Sign communications by secretly auto-linking the compromised machine to the attacker’s Sign machine.

ESET researcher Lukas Stefanko wrote:

Sign Plus Messenger can spy on Sign messages by misusing the hyperlink machine characteristic. It does this by robotically connecting the compromised machine to the attacker’s Sign machine. This technique of spying is exclusive, as we haven’t seen this performance being misused earlier than by different malware, and that is the one technique by which the attacker can get hold of the content material of Sign messages.

BadBazaar, the malware chargeable for the spying, bypasses the same old QR code scan and person click on course of by receiving the required URI from its C&C server, and straight triggering the required motion when the Hyperlink machine button is clicked. This allows the malware to secretly hyperlink the sufferer’s smartphone to the attacker’s machine, permitting them to spy on Sign communications with out the sufferer’s data, as illustrated in Determine 12.

Mechanism of linking the victim’s Signal communications to the attacker.
Enlarge / Mechanism of linking the sufferer’s Sign communications to the attacker.


ESET Analysis has knowledgeable Sign’s builders about this loophole. The encrypted messaging service indicated that menace actors can alter the code of any messaging app and put it up for sale in a misleading or deceptive method. On this case, if the official Sign purchasers have been to show a notification every time a brand new machine is linked to the account, the faux model might merely disable that code path to bypass the warning and conceal any maliciously linked gadgets. The one solution to stop turning into a sufferer of a faux Sign—or some other malicious messaging app—is to obtain solely official variations of such apps, solely from official channels.

Throughout our analysis, the server hasn’t returned to the machine a URI for linking, indicating that is probably enabled just for particularly focused customers, based mostly on the information beforehand despatched by the malware to the C&C server.

In a press release, Sign Basis President Meredith Whittaker wrote:

We’re glad that the Play Retailer took this pernicious malware masquerading as Sign off their platform, and we hope they do extra sooner or later to forestall predatory scams by way of their platform.

We’re deeply involved for anybody who trusted and downloaded this app. We urge Samsung and others to maneuver quickly to take away this malware.

The invention of this functionality has largely gone unnoticed till now. It underscores the significance of downloading solely the reliable model of Sign and periodically checking Settings > Linked Units to make sure no unrecognized gadgets seem.

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