Dubai: Security experts in the UAE have warned WhatsApp and smartphone users to be extra vigilant, as there is a spy software going around that can secretly read chats, take selfies and record audio and video.

Described as one of the “most advanced” and highly sophisticated malware that has already infected some mobile phones, Skygofree can enable hackers to spy into a user’s internet activity, track location and steal critical information like passwords and card numbers.

wkr_160325_features_P20 last word

“It collects messages from WhatsApp.. [and] can secretly turn on the front-facing camera and take a shot when the user unlocks the device – one can only guess how the criminals will use these photos,” cybersecurity firm Kapersky said in a report.

The spy tool is spread through fake mobile operator websites, where it is disguised as an update to improve mobile internet speed.

majid Khan“Any user should be cautious of their online activities and pay due diligence to security as threats are often only detected long after they have carried out their malicious intent,” Majid Khan (right), manager for cybersecurity managed services at Help AG, told Gulf News.

“Any smartphone user [should] read about the capabilities of the Skygofree malware so they can understand the incredible amount of sensitive information such attacks are capable of intercepting and extracting. To give you an idea, it can go about intercepting phone calls, turning on your microphone, tracking your GPS location, using your camera,” he added. 

The Facebook-owned messaging app has a huge following in the UAE and is one of the most popular mobile apps worldwide. As of July last year, more than 1.3 billion people around the world actively used the tool every month.

Researchers, however, said that only smartphone owners in Italy have so far been affected, but that doesn’t mean those in other markets like the UAE are not vulnerable.

How your phone can get infected

A Dubai-based software engineer said that anyone can unknowingly implant a malware into their phones by doing things like clicking on downloads from untrusted websites, failing to update their device or not having an anti-virus tool installed.


“Downloading pirated software or any software from untrusted sources, opening attachments from people you don’t know, or even from those you know [who may have forwarded a funny video, for example, can make a user vulnerable].”

“You need to be careful when you install an app that asks too many permissions,” the source told Gulf News.

That means that when a gaming app asks permission to access your contact list or images, you need to be wary. “If a photo editing app requests access to your contact list and phone calls, you should question and understand why this is necessary,” said Khan.

“Be wary of third-party app stores. This is more common with Android users and it enables them to download applications that are not available via the official Play Store. However, this also increases the chances of downloading something malicious,” he added.

“Read the web URL carefully when using your mobile browser. Often to enhance the visual experience on small screens, mobile web browsers obscure the address bar. This makes it easier for attackers to create clone websites that look authentic and can trick users into downloading malware.”

Kaspersky has also shared the following tips to protect users:

1. Install apps only from official stores. It’s wise to disable installation of apps from third-party sources, which you can do in your smartphone settings.

2. If in doubt, don’t download. Pay attention to misspelled app names, small numbers of downloads, or dubious requests for permissions — any of these things should raise flags.

3. Install a reliable security solution. This will protect your device from most malicious apps and files, suspicious websites, and dangerous links. In the free version scans must be run manually; the paid version scans automatically.