Danger in the App Store: Fake Mobile Apps

AV Comparatives, a well-respected testing agency, has reported that 68% of 250 tested anti-malware apps on the Google Play Store are ‘practically useless’ – raising concerns about the safety of android mobile users.

In the study, AV Comparatives reported that out of 250 tested anti-malware apps, 68% of the apps were deemed ineffective, failing to protect android users against 2000 of the most common android malware threats of 2018. Furthermore, the study found that 80 of the apps were able to detect at least 30% of malicious apps from last year without registering any false alarms.

AV Comparatives further reported that the majority of the apps pulled from the Google Play Store were ‘developed either by amateur programmers or by software manufacturers that are not focussed on the security business’ and highlighted that the apps that did detect most of the malware came from trusted developers such as AVG, Kasperky, McAfee and Symantec.

Beyond anti-virus apps, Android users must be wary of other mobile apps on the play store which can be potentially dangerous. Android’s increase in popularity and its openness has triggered a rise in malware-spreading apps via the Android Store and unofficial third-party stores. The most common Android malicious apps are/contain spyware and (SMS) trojans which:

Collect and send GPS coordinates, contact lists, email addresses to third parties.

Send SMSs to premium-rate numbers

Subscribe infected phones to premium services

Record phone conversations and send them to attackers

Take control over the infected phone

Download other malware onto infected phones.

In 2018, security company ESET reported a range of malicious apps which appeared on the official play store, masquerading as useful apps such as mobile banking, device boosters and cleaners, battery managers, horoscope-themed apps and even colouring books for kids.

To view a full list of malicious apps reported by ESET, click here.

Are you curious about how to avoid these issues when downloading apps? Follow these quick tips:

1. Stick to anti-virus apps from developers that you know and trust.

By downloading apps from trusted developers, you will more than likely receive the service that you signed up for. However, remember that online criminals can easily spoof the branding of genuine security products to try and trick users into downloading their malicious app or software. Always double check the name, website and details of the app you are downloading to ensure that it is from a trusted developer.

2. Ensure that you read app reviews, ratings and information beyond the app store.

Always ensure that you read up on specific apps to ensure you are downloading a genuine service. All too often we download apps without reading the reviews, ratings or any other information beyond the app store. However, be aware of potential fake reviews that are designed to dupe the unwary – occasionally, bogus anti-virus apps have been pushed to the top of the Google Play Store charts by scammers in order to entice users to download, promising mobile security for prices such as $3.99 which are then unable to be refunded.

3. Pay attention to which permissions you grant the apps you install.

Does an app really need to know your precise location, name or email address? Only grant permissions which you deem appropriate.

4. Keep your devices up to date.

By regularly updating your mobile’s operations system as well as apps, you are improving your overall mobile security. New vulnerabilities are always discovered in apps and through operating systems which allows vendors to patch their applications and software as soon as they’re available. If you fail to update your devices, attackers who may have access to your devices can take advantage of vulnerabilities, gaining them access to your information and more.

- Curious Frank

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© Curious Frank 2019