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Locked up away from coronavirus, but not from mobile viruses? Number of malicious Android apps double, research reveals

Locked up away from coronavirus, but not from mobile viruses? Number of malicious Android apps double, research reveals
The number of malicious Android apps shot up in the first quarter of 2020, research shows, as users locked away at home have become increasingly vulnerable to being targeted by bad actors.

According to new data from mobile technology company Upstream, the total amount of dodgy apps almost doubled between Q1 2019 and Q1 2020, from around 14,500 to 29,000.

The data was sourced from Upstream’s full stack anti-fraud platform, and covers 31 mobile operators in 20 countries.

Android devices account for around 75-85 percent of all smartphone sales worldwide, and its more open-nature leaves it vulnerable to fraudsters.

The data revealed a staggering 55 percent increase in the number of fraudulent mobile transactions year-on-year, and also discovered that nine out of the top 10 malicious apps of Q1 2020 are – or were at some point – available on Google Play.

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The malicious apps operate after they are downloaded by an unsuspecting user. Once installed, as with many legitimate apps, they ask users for permissions. Once given, the malware is installed fully and becomes part of a “botnet” (short for robot network) of infected devices. 

These devices are then controlled by a ‘bot-herder’ which can direct traffic to websites to click on ads and gain the fraudsters ad revenue. In other cases, they can actively direct users to click wherever they want, leading to more revenue.

This revenue often comes at the detriment of the user. One file-sharing app 4Shared was downloaded 100 million times in 2019 and could have cost users up to $150 million in unwanted charges in 17 different countries. All in all, the report shows a seven percent increase in infected mobile devices, this year, topping 11.2 million.

Out of the top ten most nefarious apps, six reportedly fall under the ‘leisure’ category, leading to speculation that, as populations around the world continue to be idle, hackers have jumped at the opportunity to exploit their needs for distraction and entertainment.

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As reported on Upstream’s own site, Geoffrey Cleaves, head of Secure-D at Upstream, commented that, “With the majority of the world having shifted indoors, there were some darker forces acting to make a profit from the lockdown situation. At Secure-D, we’ve seen a sharp increase in bad actors publishing ‘leisure’ apps on the Google Play Store, which trick users into subscribing for premium services.”

Such thorough reports are increasingly important to acknowledge as the world becomes evermore technologically dependent. Many of today’s biggest issues, such as privacy and cybersecurity stem directly from our relationship with technology. These issues will only worsen as time goes on, and have been accelerated rapidly following the pandemic.

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