Budget Android smartphones offered through a US government initiative for low-income Americans come with preinstalled, unremovable Chinese malware, researchers report.
These low-cost smartphones are sold by Assurance Wireless, a federal Lifeline Assistance program under Virgin Mobile. Lifeline, supported by the federal Universal Service Fund, is a government program launched in 1985 to provide discounted phone service to low-income households. The Unimax (UMX) U686CL ($35) is the most inexpensive smartphone it sells.
In October 2019, Malwarebytes began to receive complaints in its support system from users of the UMX U686CL who reported some pre-installed apps on their government-funded phones were malicious. Researchers purchased one of these smartphones to verify customers’ claims.