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Protecting Mobile Devices from Fake Apps
May 9, 2022
Young Man at Home Sitting on a Sofa and Using Smartphone

The mobile platform is ubiquitous — enabling users to make online transactions, run their everyday lives, or even use it in the workplace. It’s no surprise that fraudsters and cybercriminals would want to cash in on it.

Delivering adware, for example, enables cybercriminals to monetize affected devices while attempting to be innocuous.

This was recently exemplified by the Agent Smith campaign.

The Agent Smith campaign

Agent Smith is the latest in a long line of malware campaigns designed to infect users’ mobile devices. It begins when embedded inside legitimate-looking applications like photo apps, gaming titles, and/or adult-themed software. Agent Smith was revealed to have compromised 25 million handsets across the globe including many in the U.S.

Once a user installs one of these apps, the malware will get to work, exploiting vulnerabilities in the Android operating system. It extracts a list of all the legitimate apps that the user has installed on their phone and then sets about replacing them with identical-looking but malicious versions. If a device gets infected with Agent Smith, it will then go on to hijack the apps to show unwanted ads – thereby generating the hackers' money.

Adware and beyond

Adware is just one of the ways attackers victimize unsuspecting users. Attackers are always looking for ways to get malware onto consumers’ devices, and may perform the following tactics:

  • Steal login credentials for key accounts like online banking
  • Secretly mine for crypto-currency using the device, which can cause it to slow down
  • Flood the screen with pop-up adverts, making it unusable
  • Lock the phone with ransomware until a fee is paid
  • Sign a user up to premium rate services which can incur heavy charges

Staying safe against mobile threats

As mobile devices become more and more necessary for everyday transactions, security should be the utmost priority for any mobile device owner.

Here are some key steps to keep mobile devices safe against threats and hackers:

  • Stick to official app stores like Google Play and Apple’s App Store. A user is 23 times more likely to install a potentially harmful application (PHA) outside Play, according to Google.
  • Read the permissions requested by applications before installing them. If they seem suspicious or unrelated (e.g., a gaming app wants to access the address book and microphone), then cancel the installation.
  • Always ensure that the mobile device is running on the latest version of the operating system. Install app updates as soon as they’re available.
  • Avoid connecting to public WiFi unless your device is using a virtual private network (VPN).
  • Enable the device’s remote lock and wipe features in case it is lost or stolen.
  • Check any links in emails, text messages, and social media posts before clicking. Those could be malicious links.
  • Consider using a multilayered mobile security solution to prevent malware, adware, and other potentially unwanted applications (PUAs) installation attempts in their devices.
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