How cybercriminals use common apps on Google Play to spread malware

How cybercriminals use popular apps on Google Play to spread malware
How cybercriminals use popular apps on Google Play to spread malware

To spread malware, cybercriminals have developed several techniques for sneaking malicious apps into the Google Play store. These applications are used for photo editing, file management, gaming, music and video players, call recorder apps as well and health tracking

More than 3 million unique apps are available on Google Play, and most of them can be updated regularly to update security patches and implement changes. But, to gain access to the malicious applications on Google Play, hackers have discovered ways of taking advantage of these periodic updates.

How do harmful apps get onto Google Play?

Posting malicious apps on Google Play or any other app store is against the policies of the platform, and both Google and other app store providers employ various measures to prevent and remove such apps. However, threat actors may employ different tactics to attempt to bypass security measures. Here are some common techniques:

  1. Fake Developer Accounts: Threat actors may create fake developer accounts using false information. This allows them to submit malicious apps without revealing their true identity.
  2. App Repackaging: This involves taking a legitimate app, modifying its code to include malicious components, and then repackaging it as a new app. The modified app may look identical to the original, making it challenging for users and automated systems to detect.
  3. Obfuscation: Malicious developers may obfuscate the code of their apps to make it more difficult for security tools to analyze and detect malicious behavior. This involves techniques such as code encryption and renaming variables to confuse static and dynamic analysis tools.
  4. Social Engineering: Some malicious apps trick users through social engineering tactics. This can include using misleading app names, icons, or descriptions to convince users to download and install the app.
  5. Exploiting Zero-Day Vulnerabilities: Threat actors may discover and exploit previously unknown vulnerabilities in the Android operating system or other components, allowing them to install malicious apps without the user’s knowledge.

From signing up for subscriptions to collecting data

For accessing sensitive user information, such as files, photographs, videos, and the location of your device or mobile operator, malevolent codes may be used in apps. Such apps have also been found to require the user to sign up for an account with his or her mobile operator to purchase unnecessary services. Here are some aspects related to signing up for subscriptions, data mining, and malicious apps:

  1. Subscription Sign-Ups:
    • Unwanted Subscriptions: Users may inadvertently sign up for subscriptions, especially when using online services or apps that offer a trial period. After the trial, these services may automatically start charging users unless they cancel the subscription.
    • Unauthorized Charges: Malicious actors may exploit vulnerabilities in payment systems to make unauthorized charges on users’ accounts.
  2. Data Mining:
    • Privacy Concerns: Many online platforms and apps collect user data for various purposes, such as targeted advertising and improving user experience. However, concerns arise when users are unaware of the extent of data collection or when their data is shared without explicit consent.
    • User Profiling: Data mining can be used to create detailed user profiles, which may then be sold or misused for various purposes, including targeted scams or phishing attempts.
  3. Malicious Apps:
    • Fake Apps: Malicious actors create fake apps that mimic legitimate ones to deceive users. These apps may contain malware or engage in fraudulent activities, such as stealing personal information or sending premium-rate SMS messages.
    • Data Theft: Some apps may request excessive permissions, allowing them to access sensitive data on a device. Malicious apps can exploit these permissions to steal personal information.

Scam apps that offer rewards

Scam apps that promise rewards are unfortunately a common method used by cybercriminals to deceive and exploit users. These apps often claim to offer enticing rewards or benefits to attract users, but their primary goal is to steal personal information, commit fraud, or install malware on the user’s device. Here are some common characteristics of such scam apps:

  1. Too Good to Be True Offers: Scam apps often promise unrealistically high rewards or benefits, such as gift cards, cash, or exclusive access to content or services.
  2. Request for Personal Information: These apps may ask users to provide sensitive personal information, such as credit card details, Social Security numbers, or other confidential data.
  3. Fake Reviews and Ratings: Scammers may create fake reviews and ratings to make the app appear legitimate and trustworthy. Always check for reviews from reputable sources and be cautious if the app has a limited number of reviews or if they seem too positive.
  4. Poor Design and Functionality: Scam apps may have poorly designed interfaces, spelling errors, or other indicators of low-quality development. Legitimate companies usually invest in professional design for their apps.
  5. Unusual Permissions: Be wary of apps that request unnecessary permissions. If an app asks for access to features or data that seem unrelated to its function, it could be a red flag.
  6. Unknown Developer: Check the app developer’s reputation and history. Legitimate developers are typically associated with reputable companies, and their apps are well-reviewed.
  7. Unsolicited Emails or Messages: Be cautious if you receive unsolicited emails, text messages, or social media messages promoting the app. Legitimate companies usually don’t reach out to users in this manner.

Also read: How to Safeguard Against Fake Apps and KYC Fraud

How to Protect from Malware-Infected Apps

Guarding against malware-infected apps on Google Play involves adopting good security practices and being vigilant about the apps you download. Here are some tips to help protect your device:

  1. Download from Official Sources:
    • Stick to downloading apps from the official Google Play Store. Google has security measures in place to scan and verify apps for malware.
  2. Check App Permissions:
    • Pay attention to the permissions an app requests during installation. If an app requests unnecessary or suspicious permissions, reconsider installing it.
  3. Read Reviews and Ratings:
    • Before downloading an app, check its reviews and ratings. Real user feedback can provide insights into the app’s quality and potential security issues.
  4. Verify Developer Information:
    • Check the developer information before downloading an app. Legitimate apps are usually developed by well-known companies or individuals with a good reputation.
  5. Update Your Device and Apps:
    • Keep your device’s operating system and all apps up to date. Updates often include security patches that protect against known vulnerabilities.
  6. Use Security Software:
    • Consider installing reputable antivirus or security software on your device. Some security apps can scan and identify potential threats.
  7. Be Wary of Unusual Behavior:
    • If an app behaves unexpectedly, such as draining your battery quickly, causing performance issues, or displaying ads excessively, it may be a sign of malware.
  8. Avoid Sideloading Apps:
    • Sideloading apps from third-party sources can expose your device to malware. Stick to official app stores to minimize the risk.
  9. Enable Google Play Protect:
    • Google Play Protect is a built-in security feature on Android devices. Make sure it’s enabled to regularly scan your apps for malware.
  10. Educate Yourself:
    • Stay informed about the latest security threats and best practices. Knowledge is a powerful tool in protecting your device.
  11. Check App Update Frequency:
    • Regularly updated apps are more likely to have security patches and bug fixes. If an app hasn’t been updated in a long time, it may be a red flag.
  12. Report Suspicious Apps:
    • If you come across a suspicious app on Google Play, report it to Google. This helps improve the overall security of the platform.

By following these tips, you can significantly reduce the risk of downloading malware-infected apps and enhance the security of your Android device.