Fake messaging apps could compromise your Android phone
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call the hotline at 6323 5052.