When Mxolosi saw a Tecno W2 smartphone in a store in Johannesburg, South Africa, he was attracted to its looks and functionality. But what really drew him in was the price, roughly $30 — far less than comparable models from Samsung, Nokia, or Huawei, Africa’s other top brands.
“They’re very attractive and appealing to your eyes,” Mxolosi, who asked for his last name not to be used to protect his personal safety, told BuzzFeed News. “Honestly, I was a Samsung fan but I said, ‘Let me try this new product.’”
But its success can come at a price. Mxolosi, an unemployed 41-year-old, became frustrated with his Tecno W2. Pop-up ads interrupted his calls and chats. He’d wake up to find his prepaid data mysteriously used up and messages about paid subscriptions to apps he’d never asked for.
“It was expensive for me, and at some point I ended up not buying data because I didn’t know what was eating it up,” he said.
He thought it might be his fault, but according to an investigation by Secure-D, a mobile security service, and BuzzFeed News, software embedded in his phone right out of the box was draining his data while trying to steal his money. Mxolosi’s Tecno W2 was infected with xHelper and Triada, malware that secretly downloaded apps and attempted to subscribe him to paid services without his knowledge.
Secure-D’s system, which mobile carriers use to protect their networks and customers against fraudulent transactions, blocked 844,000 transactions connected to preinstalled malware on Transsion phones between March and December 2019.
Secure-D Managing Director Geoffrey Cleaves told BuzzFeed News that Mxolosi’s data was used up by the malware as it attempted to subscribe him to paid services. “Imagine how quickly his data would disappear if the subscriptions were successful,” he said.
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