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Forget Ghosts, Smartphone Malware is The Next Big Scare

You may have heard about smartphone malware from time to time, but chances are, you’ve probably had very little contact with it in the real world.

 

It seems like malware and viruses on computers is far more common, but many are worried that the future of smartphones could be headed in the same direction.

 

In this blog, I want to share what the future could look like if recent malware trends were to continue. I’d also like to offer some tips for you so that you can avoid downloading malware onto your smartphone.

What is Smartphone Malware?

Smartphone malware is any type of software that’s specifically designed to infect your smartphone and gain access to or damage certain areas of your device.

source: bgr.comsource: bgr.comThere are many different types of smartphone malware, some more dangerous than others. Some malware may try to steal your data so that it can sell it to third party advertisers. Some malware may just force adverts onto your device.

 

More serious malware may install special software that can monitor what you tap on and what you type and use that method to steal your banking information and online banking account details.

 

The scary thing about malware is that it can often be hidden inside perfectly normal working apps. Malware developers are known to create working applications that provide users with the functionality they’re looking for whilst performing malicious tasks in the background.

An Example of Smartphone Malware

Like mentioned before, there are many types of malware. In this blog, I’d like to give you an example of one such malware. The malware I’ll be using for my example is called ExpensiveWall and it can force users to send and receive premium SMS messages.

source: hackread.comsource: hackread.com

As more premium messages are sent and received, an infected user’s smartphone bill will rack up and the malware creators will reap the rewards.

 

The ExpensiveWall malware was expertly packed into another application called Lucky Wallpaper. This was a seemingly harmless wallpaper app that held a very spooky secret.

 

Because everything seemed safe to begin with, the Lucky Wallpaper app and a number of other apps packed with the ExpensiveWall malware actually made it onto the Google Play Store.

 

The infected apps have since been removed, but during their time on the Google Play Store they pulled in between 1 million and 4.2 million infected users.

 

Typically, apps can request a premium SMS message to be sent to allow users to pay for services and products through their mobile phone bill. It’s been an accepted method of online payment for years now, but this ExpensiveWall malware is one of many examples of how it’s being abused.

Where is Smartphone Malware Lurking?

There are dozens of other types of smartphone malware lurking in the shadows. Sometimes malware may be hiding on third party download sites, whilst other times they may be hiding in plain sight in the Google Play Store.

source: thedailystar.netsource: thedailystar.net

Typically, iPhone users are at far less risk of installing smartphone malware. The iTunes app store has better screening processes, and the iPhone is relatively harder to install malware onto unless the iPhone has been jailbroken.

 

iPhone malware is still possible, but it’s just incredibly rare. If you’re on Android, on the other hand, things can be far different. Like ExpensiveWall, malware can be hidden in Google Play Store apps.

 

More commonly, though, malware will be hiding in third party downloads. Downloads websites for free versions of pro .apk files is often one of the biggest places to come across smartphone malware.

How Can I Avoid Downloading Malware?

Most malware can be removed with a factory reset, or simply by removing the application permanently from your device. However, some malware is so advanced that it can embed itself into the hardware and will remain there even after a factory reset.

source: ibtimes.comsource: ibtimes.com

For this reason, it’s very important that you learn to avoid downloading malware in the first place. There are anti-virus and anti-malware apps on the Google Play Store, but they aren’t as effective as PC apps that offer a similar service.

 

As a result, the best antivirus tool you have at your disposal is often your own caution.

 

To avoid installing malware, try your hardest to only install apps from trusted sources. In most cases, this means sticking to the Google Play Store or the iOS app store.

 

When you’re downloading apps from the Google Play Store, always read through reviews before downloading the app. If you see any warnings from other app users, avoid the app at all costs.

 

Below is an example of the kinds of reviews you can expect to see from a malware-infected app.

source: checkpoint.comsource: checkpoint.com

 

Once you’ve downloaded an app from the Google Play Store, you’ll also be able to see what permissions the app needs before you finally install it. This is the last step before any potential malware can have access to your device.

 

If you’re at all suspicious at this point, you should pay close attention to what permissions the app is requesting to run.  All apps need some permissions, such as permission to read and write to your storage. However, if an app asks for a permission that it shouldn’t need, something dodgy might be going on in the background.

 

A good example would be if a calculator app asks for the permissions to read your contact list or send and receive calls and texts. In this case, you know that something is happening in the app that isn’t a part of the app’s main functionality.

Summary

There has been an increasing number of reports of smartphone malware over the last two years. Do you think malware is going to be a big problem, or do you feel relatively safe when using your device?

 

 

 

ollie_1.jpgOllie (zerodudex333) is a big mobile/tech fan. He posts blogs on Monday and Tuesday Mornings.

Follow his Twitter and his Instagram travel account.

 

 

 


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8 Comments
dabbler

"Do you think malware is going to be a big problem, " Is the pope a Catholic?

With more and more people using mobiles for banking and spending it has the potential to be very lucrative for the criminals. There's a dark side to everything, sadly.

 

I do feel relatively safe with my Androids, but I only use the Play store and don't actually download many apps, so take the time to check reviews. I also avoids apps that don't already have many thousands of downloads.

 

The permissions aspect is worrisome. The acceptance process is now more granular, but it's never clear to me what permissions are essential to the app and which could be denied without breaking it. I think honest app developers, and probably Google, could do more to help users here. Then the less honest could be more easily shunned by sensible users.

scholar

It's quite scary what it can be achieved when bad intentioned people prey on the innocent (less tech savvy)

Of course that malware is going to be a problem, I think it already is...

 

apprentice

I don't download apps (as far as I know) as my phone doesn't do internet - I always clear cookies on my laptop and use DuckDuckGo as my search since it doesn't use as much memory and is relatively cookie free.

aspirant

Is there any evidence to back the assertion that IOS is safer than Android? I have seen plenty of evidence the other way. The only real difference is that Android allows you to download apps from other sources, which of course carries more risk.

dabbler

@inspiron42 "Is there any evidence to back the assertion that IOS is safer than Android?"

It's pretty clear from publicised events that this is true, at least in the sense that malicious apps can infiltrate the Android ecosystem more easily. The Apple store is much more closely guarded than the Android (Play) store and a number of infections have got to phones through the latter. However, Google is getting better at policing the store.

Android doesn't allow you to download from other sources by default - you have to go find a setting and accept a warning about the risk. So taking that option isn't really Android being insecure, it's the user deliberately choosing to risk it. Apple doesn't give you the option, which is 'more secure', but also a bit 'big brother'. I use Android, but never use the "from other sources" option.

aspirant

Good advice. I tend to stick with Apps from the well known developers that have hundreds of thousands or millions of downloads. Pretty certain that malware is going to go after that mobile market with more and more people running their lives with their mobile. The biggest danger area is probably around NFC/virtual payments - Google Pay and Apple Pay and their type.

prophet

Nice blog @zerodudex333 is there a good app for preventing malware on your phone though. Any recommendations from anybody. Thanks again. 

scholar

Unfortunately with everything there's always someone out to spoil it.

Smart phones just another example and I am sure that at some point my phone will be infected.

Cheers