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Security researchers at Check Point have discovered a disturbing new strain of Android malware that’s as ingenious as it is disturbing.  It is effective because it is designed to replace a rapidly expanding number of apps with poisoned copies.

The app copies still retain their core functionality, making the malware notoriously difficult to detect.

After all, if you downloaded JioTV, a photo editing app of some kind, or a game, and the app works as you expect it to, why would you even suspect that it was malware?  Unfortunately, that’s exactly what this new malware strain does.

Dubbed ‘Agent Smith,’ the malware takes advantage of different android vulnerabilities and injects malicious code into the APK files of targeted apps defined by a list inside the code. They then automatically update and re-install them without the device owner’s knowledge or consent.

The Check Point researchers had this to say about the new strain:

“It’s not enough for this malware family to swap just one innocent application with an infected double.  It does so for each and every app on the device, as long as the package names are on its prey list.

Over time, this campaign will also infect the same device repeatedly, with the latest malicious patches.  This leads us to estimate there are to be over 2.8 billion infections in total, on around 25 million unique devices, meaning that on average, each victim would have suffered roughly 112 swaps of innocent applications.”

Of course, the last thing the malware’s creators want is for the app to be legitimately updated. So part of the strain’s design is to disable that functionality from inside the app so the hackers can control the updates.

If there’s a silver lining, it is that to date, the malware doesn’t contain any data siphoning or data destroying code.  All it does is display ads.  Unfortunately, the malware strain’s owners can easily shift gears any time they want to.