Half a Million Android Users Hit by Joker Malware

  • By David Lukic
  • Dec 27, 2021

More than 500,000 Android users are waking up to find their smartphone has a new form of malware. Dubbed Joker, the malware is transmitted in the form of an app through the Google Play Store.

What Does Joker Malware Do?

Joker malware clandestinely exfiltrates targets’ contacts, transmitting them to a server controlled by hackers. The Joker malware also automatically signs up target users to undesired subscriptions without notifying them. These subscriptions are of the premium variety, meaning they are not free.

How is Joker Malware Transmitted?

The latest version of the Joker malware is contained within Color Message, an app used for messaging. To be more specific, the malware is within "com.guo.smscolor.amessage". Color Message taps into the contact list and transmits it across a network without revealing itself.   The hackers behind the malware designed it to remain well-hidden after installation. This indiscreet quality of the malware makes it that much more challenging to identify and remove.  
The malware is also programmed to simulate user clicks to catalyze revenue from harmful online ads. Joker malware even connects to servers in Russia to help the hackers make even more money.

How Does Joker Evade Identification and Removal?

Though cyber security professionals are making headway in eliminating Joker from Android devices and the Google Play Store, Joker will likely affect thousands or even tens of thousands of other smartphones moving forward. The Joker malware developers are using a litany of evasion tactics to bypass Android devices’ built-in security protections. Joker malware is carefully designed with complex obfuscation and digital cloaking capabilities to sidestep most identification attempts. 

Has Color Message Provided a Response?

Color Message developers state they are committed to ensuring their app is efficient and useful. These developers went out of their way to state they reserve all rights to implement changes and charge for the app’s services whenever desired and for any reason. The Color Message team also stated it won’t charge for the app or the services it provides without communicating to users what, exactly, they are being charged for.

What is the Response from the Google Play Store?

Google’s Play Store representatives state they have removed the Joker malware app from the marketplace. The presence of Joker on Android apps in 2021 is concerning as the malware has been around for nearly half a decade. Sometimes referred to as “fleeceware” by cyber security veterans, Joker malware has executed a wide array of malicious activities dating back to ’17. Joker victims from previous years report the malware has stolen their billing information, intercepted SMS messages from smartphones, and revealed contact details to nefarious parties. 
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