CyberGuide - Information Security and Cyber Risk Management

Malware is on the move with more mobile devices targeted

By Erin Ayers, Advisen

Most people have dozens of applications on their mobile phones, some of the frequently used, others not at all – and cybercriminals have ramped up efforts to take advantage of those “hidden” apps, according to a new report from McAfee.

Hijacking mobile apps and depositing malware on the phones of unsuspecting individuals offers a new way to monetize cybercrime, the report found. The trend is most prominent in the United State, but a new malware family called “LeifAccess” or “Shopper” has been detected worldwide.

“Consider the number of applications on your smartphone today. Which ones are actively used? Which ones are no longer used?” wrote Raj Samani, author of McAfee’s 2020 Mobile Threat Report. “Do you know what data each app collects? What they do with the data? Or even who they share it with?”

He added, “Of course, these questions are based on the apps that you can see. There is a growing trend for certain apps to hide themselves, stealing precious resources and data from mobile devices that are the passport to our digital world.”

The malware allows cybercriminals to take advantage of single sign-on services to create new accounts, download other apps, commit advertising click fraud, and post fake reviews in the Google Play store. It can also allow access to install other forms of malware.

McAfee highlighted one app called “Super Clean-Phone Booster, Junk Cleaner & CPU Cooler” that had a 4.5-star rating on Google play and over 7,000 reviews. Positive reviews and a solid rating make it more likely that users will download malicious apps, allowing the fraud to spread.

According to the report, the risk is likely to rise, since it is considered “easy money” and since so many malicious apps look legitimate, it’s harder to detect. While the risk appears most prominent for individuals, businesses that allow employees to use their personal devices for work tasks face potential trouble.

“2020 is looking like the year of mobile sneak attacks. Last year, cybercriminals and nation-states increased their mobile attacks with a wide variety of methods, from backdoors to mining cryptocurrencies. This year, they have expanded the ways of hiding their attacks and frauds, making them increasingly difficult to identify and remove,” wrote Samani. McAfee advised mobile users to stick to official app stores with formal vetting processes, rather than downloading from social media or ads.

Editor Erin Ayers can be reached at [email protected].