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Android TVs Infected with Ransomware

Dec 28, 2016

For a long time, there have been warnings from various security firms about the possibility of Android TVs and other smart TVs becoming infected with ransomware. Security firms have long said that the ransomware would soon shift from phones and tablets to the smart TV market. Sure enough, it appears that ransomware has been found on a television that is Android-powered.

Android-Powered Smart TV Hit with Ransomware

The Android-powered smart TV that was hit with ransomware was the LG smart TV. The incident happened on Christmas Day to a man named Darren Cauthon. Darren purchased the new television for his daughter and uploaded a screenshot of an image that appears to show ransomware hitting the television. Darren is a software engineer and was immediately aware of what was going on when the LG smart TV showed the ominous message. When you look at the image he posted online, it is pretty clear that the television was infected with the ransomware known as FLocker, which is also known as Dogspectus and Frantic Locker.

The LG smart TV that was infected with the ransomware is Android-based and it is one of the last LG models that run on Google TV. Google TV launched back in 2010, although in 2014 the televisions were discontinued. The Google TV was made by Google along with companies like Sony, Logitech, and Intel. LG went from the Google TV to WebOS, which is an open-source Linux operating system that works much better.

In this case, Darren knew the steps to take and he tried to reset the television back to the factory settings, but the steps did not work that he found online. He then tried to get in contact with LG, which the company just said to go to a service center so that an employee could reset the television. Of course, Darren was upset with this because he felt that the “reset to factory” procedure should not be one that was kept secret from the people who were buying the televisions. Not only was he mad about that but, taking your television into the center also will cost you $340. That is on top of the $500 that the ransomware itself asked Darren to pay in order to get the television unlocked.

Darren said that people really should avoid these smart television sets. Like someone pointed out to him on Twitter, why pay that money when these days you can buy a bigger and better television for much less? Darren said he is not 100 percent sure how the ransomware got onto the device in the first place. He did say that relatives had downloaded an app in order to watch a movie, and then about halfway through the movie the whole thing froze up. When he went to reboot the television that is when the ransomware image popped up. He did not know though if the app was an official app through the Google Play Store or if the app that was downloaded came from a third-party source.

The issue with the ransomware on the Android smart TVs is that ransomware is very difficult to get rid of. Back in 2015, Symantec researchers even studied about how to install and uninstall ransomware on the smart TVs. The researchers found that the Android malware was very easy to install on the devices, but it was almost impossible to remove. The researchers were even experts when it came to the Android malware and had a lot of trouble. They concluded that if you were a non-technical user, you would essentially not be able to get rid of the ransomware. Even those that were skilled with Android and ransomware situations still had issues getting rid of the ransomware. These types of things are just that difficult to get rid of once they hit your Android smart TV or other devices. Trend Micro did the same exact test 90 days later and also concluded the same thing, which is that it is nearly impossible to get rid of the ransomware from the Android-powered smart TVs.

The only good thing is that ransomware and other malware typically does not target smart TVs. The issue is that when it does, it will become almost an impossible task to figure it out and get rid of it. Even small malware issues like browser scareware, which happened a few times in 2016 to consumers, was very difficult to remove. Trend Micro put out a report in June 2016 which concluded that ransomware is now becoming more common on smart TVs, in terms of them being a target for these problems. The biggest ransomware out there for the smart TVs is FLocker, which is known as Cyber.Police.

The downside to this latest ransomware issue with Android-powered smart TVs is that Google is working on an Android TV right now. It will be like the Google TV, and for consumers, this means that the threat of malware and ransomware will continue or get worse as the Android TVs become more mainstream.