It's a feature, not a bug. That may be the only possible excuse for spyware that allegedly comes preloaded onto the Star N9500, an Android smartphone manufactured in China and sold on Amazon and eBay.
According to German security company G Data, the spyware, called Uupay.D, is capable of intercepting personal data transmitted over the phone, such as banking data, phone calls, email messages and text messages. It then transmits that data to a server in China. G Data said Uupay.D can also remotely control the phone's camera and microphone, and covertly install more malware onto the device.
"The options with this spy program are nearly unlimited. Online criminals have full access to the smartphone," G Data's Christian Geschkat said in a company blog post.
G Data said Uupay.D runs in the background, invisible to the user, and is part of the device's firmware, making it impossible to delete. The only place the app is visible is in the phone's active applications menu, where it displays a Google Play icon to make it seem legitimate. Android antivirus apps such as G Data's Internet Security app will detect the spyware, but can't remove it.
At time of this posting, the Star N9500 (and a similar phone, the Orient N9500, which may or may not also have the preloaded malware) is still on sale online, where its low price (below $200 for an unlocked model) and high-end specifications make it an attractive smartphone option. G Data's researchers suspect the low price may be offset by the reselling of personal data stolen from the handset's unsuspecting users.
"In general, particularly cheap offers online that seem tempting should make buyers suspicious," Geschakt said in the G Data blog post. "There's no such thing as a free lunch."
G Data recommends that if your Android antivirus app detects Uupay.D on the phone, you should return the handset immediately.