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Hackers circulated malicious, hidden apps that lead to half of the mobile threats in 2019

The malicious activities in 2019 saw a 30% increase from the year before.

ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Mar 04, 2020, 04.13 PM IST
Hackers were distributing malicious apps via links in popular gamer chat apps and cheat videos by creating their own content containing links to fake apps.
PUNE: Hidden apps are the most active mobile threat facing consumers, generating nearly half of all malicious activities in 2019 with a 30% increase from the year before, according to a new study by security firm McAfee.

Hackers continue to target consumers through channels that they spend the most time on — their devices — even as the average person globally is expected to own 15 connected devices by 2030.

Hidden apps operate in multiple ways, including taking advantage of consumers using third-party login services or serving unwanted ads, according to the McAfee Mobile Threat Report 2020.

“Mobile devices hold the key to our lives — both corporate and personal. Unfortunately, they are also amongst the easiest attack vectors for cybercriminals because consumer awareness levels towards security of their devices and apps is low. Hidden apps have emerged as the most active mobile threat category and it’s highly advisable consumers stay vigilant with regards to where they download applications from, what they click and also ensure they use the right security software on their devices, to enable detection and protection of their digital lives,” said Venkat Krishnapur, vice-president of engineering and managing director, McAfee India.

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2019 was the year of serious data breaches. Each made headlines that jolted users into reality and the importance of protecting personal data. A recent survey indicates that 52 per cent of users polled believe they need to strengthen their data policies, 45 per cent expect advertising and marketing regulation to become 'more strict', while 88 per cent agree, or strongly agree, that digital privacy will become increasingly important this year.While, January 28 is observed as the Data Privacy Day in India, the US, Canada and 47 European countries each day, Sunil Sharma, managing director sales, India & SAARC, Sophos advises you to treat every day as Data Privacy Day and apply these simple tips to secure your data.

The report found hackers were distributing malicious apps via links in popular gamer chat apps and cheat videos by creating their own content containing links to fake apps. These apps masquerade as genuine with icons that closely mimic those of the real apps but serve unwanted ads and collect user data. McAfee researchers uncovered that popular apps like FaceApp, Spotify and Call of Duty all have fake versions trying to prey on unsuspecting consumers, especially younger users.

“There exists a growing trend for many apps to remain hidden, stealing precious resources and important data from the device that acts as the remote control to consumers’ digital world,” McAfee fellow and chief scientist Raj Samani said. “Now, more than ever, it is critical consumers make themselves aware of modern threats and the steps they can take to defend themselves against them, such as staying on legitimate app stores and reading reviews carefully.”

Other mobile malware, dubbed LeifAccess, uses third-party sign-on to cheat app-ranking systems. This malware takes advantage of the accessibility features in Android to create accounts, download apps, and post reviews using names and emails configured on the victim’s device.

McAfee researchers observed apps based on LeifAccess being distributed via social media, gaming platforms, malvertising and gamer chat apps. Fake warnings are used to get the user to activate accessibility services, enabling the full range of the malware’s capabilities.

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