Chinese-Made Smartphones Are Secretly Stealing Money From People Around the World

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BuzzFeed News: When Mxolosi saw a Tecno W2 smartphone in a store in Johannesburg, South Africa, he was attracted to its looks and functionality. But what really drew him in was the price, roughly $30 — far less than comparable models from Samsung, Nokia, or Huawei, Africa’s other top brands. It was another sale for Transsion, the Chinese company that makes Tecno and other low-priced smartphones, as well as basic handsets, for the developing world. Since releasing its first smartphone in 2014, the upstart has grown to become Africa’s top handset seller, beating out longtime market leaders Samsung and Nokia. But its success can come at a price. Mxolosi, an unemployed 41-year-old, became frustrated with his Tecno W2. Pop-up ads interrupted his calls and chats. He’d wake up to find his prepaid data mysteriously used up and messages about paid subscriptions to apps he’d never asked for.

He thought it might be his fault, but according to an investigation by Secure-D, a mobile security service, and BuzzFeed News, software embedded in his phone right out of the box was draining his data while trying to steal his money. Mxolosi’s Tecno W2 was infected with xHelper and Triada, malware that secretly downloaded apps and attempted to subscribe him to paid services without his knowledge. Secure-D’s system, which mobile carriers use to protect their networks and customers against fraudulent transactions, blocked 844,000 transactions connected to preinstalled malware on Transsion phones between March and December 2019. Secure-D Managing Director Geoffrey Cleaves told BuzzFeed News that Mxolosi’s data was used up by the malware as it attempted to subscribe him to paid services. Along with South Africa, Tecno W2 phones in Ethiopia, Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Indonesia, and Myanmar were infected.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.