Dangerous keyboard app has more than 50 million downloads

The Flash Keyboard app has been downloaded more than 50 million times

The Flash Keyboard app has been downloaded more than 50 million times -- but is capable of some extremely dangerous behaviors.

"It looked like it was a convenient keyboard that had some nice features," said Bill Anderson, chief product officer at mobile security company OptioLabs. "The marketing copy in the app store looked great."

For a while, the app was in the top 20 downloads for the Google Play Store, he added.

"The problem was that it asked for just about every permission that an app could ask for," he said. "It was an especially long list. And surprisingly, most people said yes. But the permissions were so excessive that it turned this thing into a potentially marvelous way to hack phones."

There is no evidence that the app itself did anything malicious, he said, but it did do some things that were questionable.

"In particular, it was found to be opening up a net connection, and sending some data it was collecting from the phone to a server somewhere else," he said. "The data was the device, manufacturer, model number, the Android version, the owner's email address, all of the Wifi addresses that it could see, the cell network it was on, the GPS coordinates of where the phone was, information about any of the Bluetooth devices it could see, and information about any web proxies it could see."

Once the data is collected, it could also be used to create a very deep personal profile of users, shared with third parties, and vulnerable to state-sponsored hackers and criminals.

None of this is information that a keyboard app needs to have, he added.

"But it's certainly good information to have if you wanted to track users and send them targeted advertisements, and that was probably what was going on here," he said. "It was doing that without informing the user, which was the problem, and ultimately got it removed from the store."

However, the app popped right back up again, and now stands at over 700,000 downloads.

"It looks as though the same group of people has put it up again," Anderson said.

The developer is DotC United, based in Hong Kong.

There are also some permissions that are particularly worrying.

For example, the app asks for the ability to download new files without notifying the user.

"Normally, if an app tries to download a file, it has to pop up a notification on the user screen," he said. "This one can potentially update itself with code that was actually malicious. It is a potential vector for a Trojan horse that could turn into something else in the future."

Another dangerous permission is the install shortcut.

Bill Anderson, chief product officer at mobile security company OptioLabs

"It sounds quite innocuous," he said. "But it turns out that it lets you replace the home screen with its own home screen for login, so it could have its own code for you to open up the Android phone. They didn't do this, but it offers an opportunity to do ransomware -- I could charge you money to unlock your phone."

It's the most egregious abuse of permissions he's ever seen, Anderson said.

On the app's Facebook page, there are numerous complaints from users about the spyware and, even more complaints about the fact that the app automatically reinstalls itself after it's been deleted.

Anderson warned users to pay attention to the permissions for any new app that they download.

He added that the Google Play app store wasn't doing enough to protect users.

"There's very little review of these apps or the companies that submit them," he said. "The app store is the Wild West."

Anderson said that his company began to pay attention to this app because of a recent report by Pentest.

According to Pentest, the app violated Google policies about deceptive behavior by replacing the lock screen with one that shows ads without telling users, by hiding notifications, by making removal difficult, and by sending information to third parties without the users' knowledge.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

More about BillCSOFacebookGoogleWest

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Maria Korolov

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