Security researchers at ESET have discovered the first malware that could allow an attacker to reset the PIN of anyone’s phone to permanently lock them out of their own device.
“This ransomware also uses a nasty trick to obtain and preserve Device Administrator privileges so as to prevent uninstallation. This is the first case in which we have observed this aggressive method in Android malware,” the researchers said in a blogpost.
The malware dubbed LockerPin, which spreads via an adult entertainment app called Porn Droid, could change the infected device’s lock screen PIN code and leaves victims with a locked mobile screen, demanding a $500 ransom.
Researchers said that there was no effective way to regain access to infected devices without losing personal data. Rebooting the device in Safe Mode, uninstalling the offending application and using Android Debug Bridge (ADB) could not solve the problem.
In order to unlock the device to perform factory reset that wipes out all the personal data and apps stored on users device.
According to the researchers, as the lock screen PIN is reset randomly, paying the ransom amount won’t give the users back their device access, because even the attackers don’t know the randomly changed PIN code of their device. This is a novelty among ransomware, usually they do everything possible to unlock the device, up to and including live tech support.
If the ransomware gets installed on anyone’s smartphone, the app first tricks users into granting it device administrator rights. It does so by disguising itself as an “Update patch installation” window.
After gaining the control over phone, the malicious app goes on to change the user’s lock screen PIN code, using a randomly generated number. Though the majority of infected devices are detected within the United States, the researchers have spotted the infections worldwide.
Researchers have suggested that in order to protect our smartphone from the ransomware, please do not install apps outside of the Google Play Store. Similarly, don’t grant administrator privileges to apps unless you truly trust them.