Data theft risk in An­droid apps


Du­bi­ous apps in

Google Play Store spark 500% rise in de­tec­tion of ran­somware

Dan­ger lurks among such pop­u­lar mo­bile apps as What­sApp, Tele­gram and MX Player in the Google Play Store.

There are many du­pli­cates of au­then­tic apps in the Play Store and some are in­fected with ran­somware, which could help hack­ers to steal your data with­out you notic­ing.

The threat of An­droid ran­somware has been grow­ing at an alarm­ing rate.

A re­port by In­ter­net se­cu­rity firm Mal­ware­bytes shows a 1,173 per cent in­crease in ran­somware de­tected in An­droid phones in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion in the first quar­ter of this year from the last quar­ter of 2017.

In Sin­ga­pore, de­tec­tion of An­droid ran­somware has in­creased by 500 per cent from 2017.

The ran­somware is able to ex­e­cute com­mands to steal users’ data, as well as send text mes­sages to con­tacts with­out their knowl­edge. It can even keep tabs on the users’ lo­ca­tion.

High­light­ing the dan­ger, Mal­ware­bytes Asia Pa­cific area vice-pres­i­dent Jeff Hur­muses said: “Un­for­tu­nately, An­droid users have be­come a pop­u­lar tar­get for hack­ers, and mo­bile ran­somware sneaks into smart­phones very eas­ily.”

While the Cy­ber Se­cu­rity Agency of Sin­ga­pore (CSA) has yet to re­ceive re­ports from users here of fake mo­bile apps con­tain­ing ma­li­cious codes, the deputy di­rec­tor of its Na­tional Cy­ber In­ci­dent Re­sponse Cen­tre, Mr Dou­glas Mun, urges users to ex­er­cise cau­tion when down­load­ing apps.

He said: “Fake mo­bile apps im­i­tate the look or func­tion­al­ity of le­git­i­mate apps, such as bank­ing or pop­u­lar game apps, to trick users into down­load­ing them.”

Google Play prod­uct man­ager An­drew Ahn wrote on the An­droid De­vel­op­ers Blog: “Fa­mous ti­tles get a lot of search traf­fic for par­tic­u­lar key­words, so the bad ac­tors try to amass in­stalls lever­ag­ing such traf­fic.”

For in­stance, a search of pop­u­lar mes­sag­ing app Tele­gram on the Play Store yielded many re­sults, with most of them us­ing sim­i­lar de­signs and colour schemes as that of the real one.

A less dis­cern­ing user might not no­tice the dif­fer­ence, which could po­ten­tially lead to them un­know­ingly down­load­ing a du­pli­cate app and in­tro­duc­ing mal­ware into their phones.

Com­pared with Ap­ple’s closed iOS op­er­at­ing sys­tem, An­droid’s open-sourced ap­proach is tar­geted by a higher per­cent­age of mo­bile mal­ware. Google says it is do­ing all it can to en­sure that its Play Store is safe from such apps.

Last year, it took down more than 700,000 apps that vi­o­lated Google Play poli­cies. More than 250,000 of them were “im­per­son­at­ing apps”.

Through new ma­chine learn­ing mod­els and tech­niques, 99 per cent of apps with abu­sive con­tent were iden­ti­fied and re­jected be­fore any­one could in­stall them. This in­cluded those in­volv­ing im­per­son­ation, in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­tent, or mal­ware.

Even so, Mal­ware­bytes’ Mr Hur­muses rec­om­mends that An­droid users take pre­cau­tions to pro­tect them­selves.

Be­sides down­load­ing apps from trusted sources, users must also ap­ply se­cu­rity patches for both the op­er­at­ing sys­tem and sys­tem ap­pli­ca­tions, he added.

They can also “in­stall the best mal­ware pro­tec­tion and re­moval tool to aid in de­fend­ing your An­droid de­vice”.

Any­one who en­coun­ters du­pli­cate apps or those with mal­ware can re­port them to SingCERT at or call the hot­line at 6323 5052.

A search in the Google Play Store yielded nu­mer­ous ver­sions of the mes­sag­ing app Tele­gram, not all of them le­git­i­mate.

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