Android most vulnerable software as threats from Play Store apps spike, say experts

Android most vulnerable software as threats from Play Store apps spike, say experts

The number of Play Store apps designed to steal information or money from smartphone and tablet owners has increased compared to previous years, the latest research claims

Android users have been plagued by thousands of malicious Google Play Store apps and other repositories online in the last year. The number of scam apps designed to steal information or money from smartphone and tablet owners has increased compared to previous years, the latest research claims.

Warnings around scam apps targeted at Android users are becoming commonplace. It seems like every other day a new threat to users’ privacy – or bank accounts – are being unearthed within the Play Store apps. And that’s perception is founded in fact. New research data shows there was an increase in the number of threats uncovered.

According to research conducted by London-based mobile monetisation firm Upstream in its fraud report, known as Secure-D, there was a substantial rise in the number of malicious apps uncovered for Android smartphones and tablets. While the same report in 2018 discovered 63,000 malicious apps – that rose to a staggering 98,000 last year.

This vast number of scam apps managed to collectively infect 43 million Android devices, Upstream confirms.

With Android-powered devices now accounting for an estimated 75-85 percent of all smartphone sales worldwide, Android is comfortably the most popular mobile operating system on the planet right now. Unfortunately, this means it’s more likely to be targeted – as there are more potential targets and bigger rewards to be gained. According to research by Upstream, Android’s is also the “most vulnerable” mobile operating system due to its open nature – “making it a favourite playground for fraudsters,” it adds.

As for protecting yourself, the security researchers say that it’s always a good rule of thumb for Android users to only download mobile apps from Google’s official storefront, Google Play Store. However, due to its scale and set up, rogue apps are still managing to penetrate its defences.

Of the top 100 most active malicious apps blocked in 2019, Upstream claims that 32 percent are still available to download on Google Play Store. A further 19 percent of the worst-offending apps had started on the Play Store before being removed. According to Upstream, these apps were all found within third-party app websites, which do not offer the same protections or safeguards as the Play Store.

Analysing the thousands of malicious apps shared online, it seems fraudsters target some app categories more than others. Ironically, apps designed to make a device function better and make your everyday life just that little bit easier are most likely to be the ones to harm your handset – with 22.32 percent of malicious apps from 2019 falling under the Tools, Personalisation and Productivity category.

The next most popular categories cybercriminals target are Games (18.97 percent) and Entertainment/Shopping (15.76 percent).

In the course of just a few months in 2019, Upstream claims to have detected suspicious background activity in five popular Android apps – 4shared, a popular file-sharing app, Vidmate, a video download tool, Weather Forecast a preinstalled app on all Alcatel-branded devices, Snaptube, another video and audio app, and ai.type, an on-screen keyboard app.

With a total of nearly 700 million downloads between them, all of these apps were available on the Google Play Store at some point. In these five cases alone, the company detected and blocked 353 million suspicious mobile transactions preventing $430 million in fraudulent charges, it claims.

Upstream CEO Dimitris Maniatis commented, mobile ad fraud is a criminal enterprise on a massive scale. Though it may seem that it is only targeted at advertisers, it greatly affects the whole mobile ecosystem. Most importantly it adversely impacts consumers; eating up their data allowance, bringing unwanted charges, messing with the performance of their device, and even targeting and collecting their personal data.

He said, it is more than an invisible threat, it is an epidemic, calling for increased mobile security that urgently needs to rise up in the industry’s priority list. Left unchecked, ad fraud will choke mobile advertising, erode trust in operators and lead to higher tariffs for users.

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