Malware worms its way into more apps, study finds

June 24, 2014 by Rob Lever
Malicious software is increasingly making its way into mobile phones through "cloned" versions of popular apps, and software weaknesses in legitimate ones, security researchers say

Malicious software is increasingly making its way into mobile phones through "cloned" versions of popular apps, and software weaknesses in legitimate ones, security researchers said Tuesday.

McAfee Labs said in its quarterly threat assessment that weaknesses in app security are becoming a growing problem for owners of mobile devices.

In some cases, cybercriminals can take advantage of the popularity of an app by creating a clone, which can extract personal data or even allow an attack to gain control of the device.

This was the case with "Flappy Birds," a mobile game which saw a meteoric rise but was later withdrawn by its creator.

McAfee Labs sampled 300 Flappy Bird clones and found that almost 80 percent contained malware.

"Some of the behavior we found includes making calls without the user's permission; sending, recording, and receiving SMS messages; extracting contact data; and tracking geolocation. In the worst cases, the malware gained root access, which allows uninhibited control of anything on the mobile device including confidential business information," the report said.

The McAfee report said some legitimate apps have security flaws which can be exploited by hackers.

The researchers said they discovered an Android trojan "which exploits an encryption method weakness in the popular messaging app WhatsApp" and then steals conversations and pictures stored on the device.

"Although this vulnerability has now been fixed, we can easily imagine cybercriminals continuing to look for other flaws in this well-known app," the report said.

Digital pickpockets

The researchers also said they identified malware that can steal money from a .

One of the malware programs identified "is disguised as an update for Adobe Flash Player or another legitimate utility app," and can take over a digital wallet to send a money transfer to the attacker's server.

"Mobile malware has recently started to use legitimate apps and services, in addition to a platform's standard features, to circumvent conventional surveillance by stores and security products," the McAfee report said.

"Consequently, protecting only the underlying platform is no longer sufficient. We believe that developers need to protect their apps and services from unauthorized and malicious use."

McAfee's Vincent Weafer said people may be lulled into a false sense of security about .

"We tend to trust the names we know on the Internet," Weafer said.

"The year 2014 has already given us ample evidence that mobile developers are playing on these inclinations, to manipulate the familiar, legitimate features in the apps and services we recognize and trust."

Explore further: Malware up, hackers bypass security safeguards, survey says

Related Stories

Google removes Android malware used to secretly mine bitcoin

April 27, 2014

If you own an Android device, your phone might be mining bitcoin without you even knowing it. Five applications were recently removed from the Google Play store after they were discovered to be covertly using Android devices ...

Fighting the rise of the app attackers

February 26, 2014

Researchers have been given a share of £3 million by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to counter cyber-criminals who are using malicious apps which can collude with each other to infect the ...

Recommended for you

Microsoft aims at Apple with high-end PCs, 3D software

October 26, 2016

Microsoft launched a new consumer offensive Wednesday, unveiling a high-end computer that challenges the Apple iMac along with an updated Windows operating system that showcases three-dimensional content and "mixed reality."

Making it easier to collaborate on code

October 26, 2016

Git is an open-source system with a polarizing reputation among programmers. It's a powerful tool to help developers track changes to code, but many view it as prohibitively difficult to use.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.