An Independent Report Detects China’s Tecno Sells Malware Smartphone To African Countries

Hand holding Tecno phone
Credit: Techpoint Africa

Amid America’s crackdown on China’s Huawei technology for national security threats, a software that eats up mobile data and registers people for unwanted subscriptions has been detected on techno devices in African countries. The built-in malware was found on 53,000 Tecno W2 devices shipped to 5 African countries (Ethiopia, Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, and South Africa). It has been found preinstalled on these smartphones more than two years after it was first detected. 

The malware prompts “suspicious subscription requests” which sign up users to digital services without their knowledge. The subscription services, if successful, would consume users’ prepaid airtime as well as generate fake clicks on banner ads in the background. The xHelper trojan persists across reboots, app removals, and even factory reset, making it extremely difficult to deal with even for experienced professionals, let alone the average mobile user, said Secure-D, which is owned by mobile technology company Upstream. 

CNN reported that Secure-D, the anti-fraud platform that conducted the research, recorded 19.2 million suspicious transactions since March 2019 from over 200,000 unique devices. “The fact that the malware arrives pre-installed on handsets that are bought in the millions by typically low-income households tells you everything you need to know about what the industry is currently up against,” managing director of Secure-D, Geoffrey Cleaves, said. 

However in a statement to CNN Business, Tecno Mobile responded the problem “was an old and solved mobile security issue globally” for which it issued a fix in March 2018. The statement also added that consumers currently experiencing difficulties should download the fix through their phones or contact after-sales support. 

This development has come at a time when China is already under intense accusations of using its state-owned companies like Huawei and Tick Tok to threaten national security. Will this revelation make African citizens apprehensive of the security assurance of Chinese technology? Are there any more malware in affordable ‘Made in China’ technological products in Africa?

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