Google detects Android Tizi Spyware that spies on popular apps like WhatsApp and Telegram

Pierluigi Paganini November 28, 2017

Google identified a new family of Android malware dubbed Tizi spyware by using Google Play Protect, it spies on popular apps like WhatsApp and Telegram.

In May, Google introduced the defense system called Google Play Protect to protect the Android devices, it implements a machine learning and app usage analysis to identify any malicious activity on the mobile device.

Recently, Google identified a new family of Android malware dubbed Tizi spyware by using Google Play Protect. Tizi infected targeted devices in African countries, specifically in Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania.

Tizi spyware

Tizi is a fully-featured Android backdoor with rooting capabilities that installs spyware  to steal sensitive data from popular social media applications, including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, LinkedIn, and Telegram.

“The Google Play Protect security team discovered this family in September 2017 when device scans found an app with rooting capabilities that exploited old vulnerabilities,” reads a blog post published by Google. “The team used this app to find more applications in the Tizi family, the oldest of which is from October 2015.”
The mobile apps infected with Tizi spyware are being advertised on social media websites and 3rd-party app stores.

Once installed on the target device, the malicious app gains root access to install spyware, then the malicious code  contacts the command-and-control servers by sending an SMS text message with the GPS coordinates of the infected device to a specific number.Experts discovered that the Tizi malware is installed by the backdoor that exploits known vulnerabilities, including CVE-2012-4220, CVE-2013-2596, CVE-2013-2597, CVE-2013-2595, CVE-2013-2094, CVE-2013-6282, CVE-2014-3153, CVE-2015-3636, and CVE-2015-1805.

If none of the above flaws could be used to install the Tizi spyware, the backdoor will attempt to perform some actions get higher privileges, for example asking the user to grant them.

“If a Tizi app is unable to take control of a device because the vulnerabilities it tries to use are are all patched, it will still attempt to perform some actions through the high level of permissions it asks the user to grant to it, mainly around reading and sending SMS messages and monitoring, redirecting, and preventing outgoing phone calls.” continues Google.

The Tizi spyware is able to communicate with the command-and-control servers over regular HTTPS, and also through the MQTT messaging protocol using a custom server.

The Tizi spyware contains various capabilities common to commercial spyware:

  • Stealing data from popular social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, LinkedIn, and Telegram.
  • Recording calls from WhatsApp, Viber, and Skype.
  • Sending and receive SMS messages.
  • Accessing calendar events, call log, contacts, photos, and list of installed apps
  • Stealing Wi-Fi encryption keys.
  • Recording ambient audio and take pictures without displaying the image on the device’s screen.

Google has identified 1,300 Android devices infected by Tizi and removed it, it also shared suggestions to reduce the chance of users’ devices being infected.

  • Check permissions: Be cautious with apps that request unreasonable permissions. For example, a flashlight app shouldn’t need access to send SMS messages.
  • Enable a secure lock screen: Pick a PIN, pattern, or password that is easy for you to remember and hard for others to guess.
  • Update your device: Keep your device up-to-date with the latest security patches. Tizi exploited older and publicly known security vulnerabilities, so devices that have up-to-date security patches are less exposed to this kind of attack.
  • Google Play Protect: Ensure Google Play Protect is enabled.
  • Locate your device: Practice finding your device, because you are far more likely to lose your device than install a PHA.
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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – Tizi spyware, Android malware)

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