FluBot SMS surge continues as scammers master reverse psychology

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FluBot scammers have dabbled in reverse psychology in a bid to trick a more aware public

Criminals behind the prolific FluBot SMS-based cyberattacks sweeping Australia have flipped their scam on its head. They have convinced potential victims they need to install a security update to remove the bot itself.

The security update contains — lo and behold — FluBot itself!

The latest trick showcases the criminals’ willingness to experiment to increase infections as people become more alert.

We wrote about the FluBot in August as reports of strange garbled messages began to hit SMS inboxes.

What is FluBot?

FluBot is malware that is installed on your Android device if you click on a link in a SMS.

This malware then sends many similar text messages to other people from your phone without your knowledge, potentially infecting them.

The malware requests high levels of access to a victim’s phone to steal data and spread to other devices. Modern Android phones provide owners with warnings about the access an app is requesting. But this may be of little protection to those who believe they are installing a legitimate app.

An image of the FluBot scam affecting users in Australia.
Flubot is thought to have begun in Spain before spreading around Europe and then coming to Australia

Where FluBot began

Flubot likely originated in Spain before spreading around Europe and then coming to Australia.

The attacks are independent of carriers and potentially affect everyone.

Criminals behind the scam are notable in their willingness to regularly change the content of their SMS phishing messages. They often opt for tried and tested messages common to phishing including missed packages, voicemails, and pending fines.

The SMS content reverted to claims a potential victim has missed a voicemail. The crims in question developed this after they experimented with a ruse last week that victims were “already infected”.

How it continues to evolve and change

The messages have also in recent weeks claimed potential victims have missed parcels.

The continually altered messages make reliable identification tricky. However, the malware can only be installed if victims enable the installation of unknown apps.

To date, all webpages on which the malware is located have carried the same sentence. This requests that “if a window appears preventing the installation, select ‘settings’ and enable the installation of unknown apps”.

Most people have little reason to install unknown apps and should be weary of requests to do so.

How to stop FluBot wreaking havoc

FluBot can’t be installed if the installation of unknown apps is left as its default setting of “denied”.

We strongly recommend you leave this setting.

FluBot also can’t be installed on iOS devices like iPhone and iPad.

Infected Android phones should be factory reset, as we advised in our guidance back in August.

Recipients of annoying Flubot messages should research whether their phone has in built SMS blocking features. Google has in-built anti-spam within its default SMS app. This feature blocks known Flubot messages.  

Third party SMS anti-spam apps like VeroSMS may also help block the messages on iOS or android phones. 

Ultimately, people can beat scams by being sceptical of all unexpected communications. This is regardless of the message, the sender, and the medium on which it was sent.

Ahmed Khanji

Ahmed Khanji

Ahmed Khanji is the CEO of Gridware, a leading cybersecurity consultancy based in Sydney, Australia. An emerging thought leader in cybersecurity, Ahmed is an Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University and regularly contributes to cybersecurity conversations in Australia. As well as his extensive background as a security advisor to large Australian enterprises, he is a regular keynote speaker and guest lecturer on offensive cybersecurity topics and blockchain.

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