NEWS Malicious Apps Caught Secretly Turning Android Phones into Proxies

Several malicious Android apps that turn mobile devices running the operating system into residential proxies (RESIPs) for other threat actors have been observed on the Google Play Store.

The findings come from HUMAN's Satori Threat Intelligence team, which said the cluster of VPN apps came fitted with a Golang library that transformed the user's device into a proxy node without their knowledge.

The operation has been codenamed PROXYLIB by the company. The 29 apps in question have since been removed by Google.

Residential proxies are a network of proxy servers sourced from real IP addresses provided by internet service providers (ISPs), helping users hide their actual IP addresses by routing their internet traffic through an intermediary server.

The anonymity benefits aside, they are ripe for abuse by threat actors to not only obfuscate their origins, but also to conduct a wide range of attacks.

When a threat actor uses a residential proxy, the traffic from these attacks appears to be coming from different residential IP addresses instead of an IP of a data center or other parts of a threat actor's infrastructure," security researchers said.

"Many threat actors purchase access to these networks to facilitate their operations."

Some of these networks can be created by malware operators tricking unsuspecting users into installing bogus apps that essentially corral the devices into a botnet that's then monetized for profit by selling the access to other customers.

The Android VPN apps discovered by HUMAN are designed to establish contact with a remote server, enroll the infected device to the network, and process any request from the proxy network.

Another notable aspect of these apps is that a subset of them identified between May and October 2023 incorporate a software development kit (SDK) from LumiApps, which contains the proxyware functionality. In both cases, the malicious capability is pulled off using a native Golang library.

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