Named 'FlixOnline', the hackers distributed the malware via malicious auto-replies to incoming WhatsApp messages, using payloads received from a remote command and control (C&C) server, according to the team from Check Point Research (CPR).
By replying to incoming WhatsApp messages, this method could enable a hacker to distribute phishing attacks, spread further malware, or spread false information or steal credentials and data from users' WhatsApp account and conversations, they warned.
"This 'wormable' Android malware features innovative and dangerous new techniques for spreading itself, and for manipulating or stealing data from trusted applications such as WhatsApp," the cybersecurity researchers said.
"It highlights that users should be wary of download links or attachments that they receive via WhatsApp or other messaging apps, even when they appear to come from trusted contacts or messaging groups," they warned.
A threat actor could perform a wide range of malicious activities like spreading further malware via malicious links, stealing data from users' WhatsApp accounts and spreading fake or malicious messages to users' WhatsApp contacts and groups.
When the application is downloaded from the Play Store and installed, the malware starts a service that requests 'Overlay', 'Battery Optimization Ignore', and 'Notification' permissions.
If these permissions are granted, the malware then has everything it needs to start distributing its malicious payloads, and responding to incoming WhatsApp messages with auto-generated replies.
"Theoretically, though these auto-generated replies, a hacker can steal data, cause business interruptions on work related chat groups, and even extortion by sending sensitive data to all the users contacts," the team noted.
The researchers notified Google about the malicious application and the details of its research and the tech giant quickly removed the application from the Play Store.
Over the course of two months, the FlixOnline app was downloaded approximately 500 times.
"If a user was infected, they should remove the application from their device, and change their passwords," the researchers said.