NSA planned to hijack Google Play Store, Samsung app store to deliver malware

The program also exposed a major browser vulnerability, which government agents reportedly exploited for years.

App stores from Google and Samsung reportedly became targets for government hijacking a few years ago, as the National Security Agency and its allies ramped up their data collection efforts.

As reported by CBC News and The Intercept, the plan involved hijacking the connections between smartphones and their app marketplace servers, and then planting malicious software on targeted devices. The NSA and friendly spying agencies could then secretly collect data, and possibly even send "selective misinformation to the targets" for propaganda or confusion purposes.

The reports stem from a new document provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. It outlines a series of workshops held by the NSA and its counterparts in Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia--collectively known as "Five Eyes."

While investigating this possible hijacking method, the NSA and its allies also came across a major vulnerability in UC Browser, which is hugely popular in Asia. The program was reportedly leaking phone numbers, SIM card numbers, and other device details to its servers in China, making it a possible treasure trove for spying agencies.

The vulnerability persisted until last April, when human rights group Citizen Lab alerted the Alibaba Group, UC Browser's parent company. An Alibaba source said it never heard a word about the leakage from spying agencies.

Why this matters: While it's unclear what became of the app store hijacking plan, earlier reports have shown that U.K. spying agency GCHQ designed a suite of spyware aimed at iPhones and Android phones. The new documents could show how agents planned to load that spyware onto target's phones.

The documents also speak to a larger issue of whether spy agencies should continue to exploit the software vulnerabilities they discover--thereby putting all users at risk--instead of reporting them. President Barack Obama has said he's in favor of disclosing vulnerabilities, but with exceptions for national security and law enforcement needs. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has sued the NSA for more specifics on when it might keep security flaws secret.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags KingNational Security AgencyGooglesecuritynsa21government

More about CBCElectronic Frontier FoundationGCHQGoogleNational Security AgencyNewsNSASamsung

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Jared Newman

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place