G Data, a German cybersecurity firm, announced Tuesday that it has discovered a brand of Android smartphones is being sold with suspicious Chinese malware apparently pre-installed on the system. Few online marketplaces made any change days after the announcement, although eBay announced Thursday that the handset device in question had been banned.
The Star N9500 is currently for sale on a number of major retail websites generally being sold by companies based in Shenzhen, in southern China. The identity of the phone’s manufacturer was not immediately clear, although none of the listings contain a warning that the phone now seems to have been implicated as a device used for Chinese espionage.
An Amazon search for the device, which usually costs $159.99, led to a re-direction page.
“The manufacturer is not mentioned,” G Data spokesman Thorsten Urbanski told Associated Press. “Not in the phone, not in the documentation, nothing else.”
G Data explained that the malware is hidden deep in the proprietary software of the Star N9500, making it impossible for hackers to infiltrate a customer’s personal information, place unauthorized phone calls in his name, or utilize the phone’s camera or microphone.
This is latest in a years-long series of discoveries where spyware was found on Chinese software. Microsoft’s digital crimes unit has consistently investigated such allegations, but has been especially busy examining similar claims since 2011, according to Computer Weekly. Research from 2012 suggested that as much as 20% of PCs produced by certain Chinese developers were intentionally infected with counterfeit Windows platforms.
As is often the case with the Star N9500, the stolen information is rerouted back to cybercriminals in China. Many retailers had yet to remove the Star N9500 from their listings, a trend seen by many security experts as proof that the major e-commerce sites are sometimes slow in ensuring all customers are guaranteed a safe product.
“We have to assume that such incidents will increasingly occur, for different commercial and other reasons,” Bjoern Rupp, chief executive of the German GSMK security consultancy firm, told AP.