When the user clicks on the icon for the first time it disappears from the homescreen and nothing else seems to happen, a trick commonly used by mobile malware. In the background, however, the malware starts preparing its onslaught of attacks.
Services can perform long-running operations in the background and does not need a user interface. Broadcast Receivers are Android components that can register themselves for particular events. Activities are key building blocks, central to an app’s navigation, for example,” Zscaler researchers note.
Additionally, the malware can uninstall apps from the infected device (such as antivirus protections), was designed to function only over Wi-Fi (to avoid raising suspicion), and can even click photos, the security researchers say. SpyNote RAT also collects the device’s location to identify the exact location of the victim, and packs various data exfiltration capabilities.
According to Zscaler, the SpyNote RAT builder was seen gaining popularity in the hacking community. It can be used to create various fake apps to masquerade the malware, such as WhatsApp, YouTube Video Downloader, Google Update, Instagram, Hack Wifi, AirDroid, WifiHacker, Facebook, Photoshop, SkyTV, Hotstar, Trump Dash, and Pokemon GO (the game was abused for malware distribution even before being launched on Android).
“Furthermore, we found that in just the first two weeks of 2017, there have been more than 120 such spyware variants already built using the same SpyNote Trojan builder as SpyNote RAT and roaming in the wild,” the security researchers say. A similar trend is usually observed after the source code of a piece of malware leaks online.