Categories
ANDROID SECURITY

Top 10 Dangerous Android Security Threats to Watch out for in 2021

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Smartphones have become an integral part of modern life and they play a massive role in our work and personal lives every day. The need to protect our phones is critical, given the sheer amount of sensitive data that we store on them. Many of us are now spending more time on our phones than our desktops or laptops.

With 2 billion+ monthly active devices, Android is the largest and most popular platform in the world. In fact, according to Statista, there were over 108 billion Play Store downloads in 2020. It should therefore be no surprise that Android devices have become the number one target for cyberattacks.

The good news is that Android is by its very nature a very secure operating system, with multiple layers of defense to protect itself from dangerous cyberattacks such as malware. But since 95% of cybersecurity breaches are caused by human errors, it is the smartphone owner that is the biggest threat to their phones’ security.

For example, according to a survey by Consumer Report, 34 percent of all smartphone owners do not bother at all with their device’s security. According to the study, this explains why so many people’s accounts get hacked when their devices get stolen.

With that being said, here’s a look at some of the biggest cybersecurity threats to Android smartphones in 2021.

  1. Social engineering
  2. Fake apps
  3. Official app store insecurities.
  4. Mobile malware
  5. Third party app stores
  6. Lack of security updates and patches for Android
  7. Fake antivirus for Android
  8. Poor password hygeine
  9. Unsecured Wi-Fi
  10. Billing Fraud

1. Social engineering.

This devious tactic is now just as prevalent on the mobile front as it is on desktops, and the modus operandi is the same: social engineers try to fool unsuspecting users into clicking on malicious links by impersonating family, friends or trusted organisations. And social engineering attacks on mobiles isn’t just an email thing. In fact, 83% of phishing attacks in 2020 took place in text messages or in apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp along with a variety of popular gaming apps and social media services.

These platforms have all been used to launch sophisticated phishing attacks on mobile devices. Furthermore, mobile users have been found to be 3 times more vulnerable to phishing attacks than desktop users, presumably because the smaller screen size on smartphones make it a lot easier to spoof messages and trick users into thinking that a message was sent by someone they trust.

2. Fake apps.

Attackers may try to get into your smartphone using dangerous fake apps. Fake apps are Android or iOS apps that mimic the appearance and functionality of legitimate, popular programs that people already love to use. The aim is to con unsusecting users into installing these bogus applications. These apps tend to perform a series of malicious activities once they have been downloaded and installed. These include stealing money from your bank account, infecting devices with malware, collecting sensitive info or aggressively inundating your handset with ads.

Types of fake apps

There are three main types of fake apps:

1. Imposter apps

These are bogus apps that mimic the look appearance and behaviour of the original, legitimate apps. They often have the same user interface, description and because they cannot use the same name as the original, they use a name that is similar to the original. For example, “Update WhatsApp” was a fake app that looked like it was created by the company that created the original. It was so good that it fooled more than one million people into downloading it.

The problem of imposter apps is compounded by the fact that 50 percent of users often find it difficult to distinguish fake apps from the real thing.

2. Fleeceware

There are apps that appear to perform the function for which they were downloaded, and there is nothing overtly malicious in the code of these apps. The problem is that these apps come with hidden, excessive subscription fees. Furthermore, if you don’t know how to properly cancel the subscription, the app will keep charging you long after you have deleted it from your phone.

3. Ad malware

These types of app could be a simple game or provide a simple function, but they are designed to

These types of app could be a simple game or provide a simple function, but they are designed to generate ad income by constantly inundating users with ads to force them to view or click adverts.

Examples of the damage that fake apps can do include:

  • Harvesting your location data and contacts list.
  • Stealing your banking details
  • Subscribing your device to premium services.
  • Recording your conversations.
  • Changing the web browser’s homepage and search engine without your permission.

Some of the most popular malicious apps to avoid include:

  1. Snaptube
  2. GPS speedometer
  3. Free messages, Video, Chat, Text for Messenger Plus
  4. Easy Scanner
  5. Weather Forecast
  6. Super Calculator
  7. Who Unfriended Me
  8. VidMate
  9. Quicktocuh

Click here for more info on how to spot and avoid fake apps.

3. Official app store insecurities.

Some malicious apps have slipped through the cracks on both the Apple App Store and Google Play. So, even though you might have never downloaded apps from third party sites, you may still be at risk of falling for this scam. The official stores failed to identify several advanced cyberattack techniques and have been responsible for distributing malicious apps disguised as legitimate ones. For example, some fake camera apps on Google Play were able to amass between 500,000 and 1 million downloads in just a few days before they were detected and removed.

In many cases, these malicious apps are able to get past the rigorous checks of the official stores by submitting clean apps to start with, and then add malicious functionalities later on. Authors of the downloaded apps manufacture positive reviews to encourage downloads of the malicious apps.

Consider the following horrifying facts and figures as reported by Arxan Technologies:

  • 97% of top 100 paid Android apps and 87% of top 100 paid iOS apps have been hacked.
  • 80% of popular free Android apps have been hacked and 75% of the popular free iOS apps have been hacked.
  • Mobile financial apps are still at risk – 95% of the Android financial apps reviewed were “cracked” while 70% of the iOS financial apps were hacked.
  • 90% of retail/merchant Android apps and 35% of retail/merchant iOS apps have been compromised.
  • 90% of Android healthcare/medical apps have been hacked, 22% of which are FDA approved.

Normally, if you have downloaded an app that has been identified as malicious, you should get a notification from Google Play. But it’s important to realize that this doesn’t mean all of the apps you don’t get notified about are completely safe. Click here to check if you’ve downloaded any of these malicious apps.

4. Mobile malware.

Mobile malware is malicious software that attacks the operating system on mobile devices. Right now, there are far more threats to desktop than to mobile thanks to the security of mobile operating systems, but mobile malware is a growing concern for users.

Here are the most common types of mobile malware:

  • Adware. Adware is the most prevalent type of malware found on smartphones. According to Avast, it counts for 72% of all mobile malware. Adware gets onto smartphones by installation of a script or program without the user’s knowledge. Adware works by collecting data from your phone in order to inundate you with ads.  
  • Spyware. Spyware is designed to secretly monitor and record information about your activities and send that information to a third party.
  • Trojan. A Trojan on your smartphone typically appears as a text message. It is designed to send premium text messages that will increase your phone bill.
  • Mobile ransomware. Mobile ransomware encrypts data on your phone and demands money to decrypt that data.
  • Browser hijacker. This malware takes over your browser settings to promote malicious content from your phone.

A lot of malware doesn’t stay on your phone after a reboot, so make it a habit to reboot your phone on a regular basis.

5. Third party app stores.

The main problem with third party app stores is that they may not vet apps with the same level of scrutiny as apps on the Apple App Store or Google Play. This means that you cannot be 100% sure of the apps that you download from a third party store. But then, you can also unwittingly download malicious apps from either of the official app stores. In any case, tthe risks are definitely greater with third party app stores.

For example, you can get popular apps at a cheaper price on any one of these stores, but that deal can put the security of your data at risk if malicious code is injected into that popular app you might have bought through a third party store. Third party app stores could also share your data with other parties without your knowledge or permission. As a security measure, if you have a third party app that requests excessive permissions or access to data, remove them and search for an alternative because they are likely to be malicious.

6. Lack of security updates and patches for Android.

Security updates are vitally important to repair security holes or fix known software vulnerabilities. Software engineers release updates and patches once they have fixed known vulnerabilities. When new security updates are ready for Android, your phone will prompt you to install a new version of its firmware. However, if you have an older Android phone, you may be at greater risk because Google no longer issues security updates for version 6.0 of the Android operating system or below.

This can be a big problem because it means that if you are using an Android phone that was released in 2012 or earlier, flaws in the older version will remain open and potentially vulnerable to cybercriminals. This puts you at a greater danger of all kinds of cyberattacks including ad fraud, data theft and mobile malware.

To find out the Android OS of your phone, swipe down from the top of the screen and tap the settings icon

7. Fake antivirus for Android

According to a study by Austrian antivirus testing company AV-Comparatives which specializes in testing antivirus products, most of the Android AV apps on Google Play are ineffective against malware. In and of itself, Android is a pretty secure OS, so you probably don’t need to install AV apps like Norton or AVG on your phone, because these apps can actually be detrimental to your system’s performance. A robust cybersecurity strategy can be more effective for your smartphone than certain types of antivirus software.

8. Poor password hygiene

Not securing your phone properly with a strong password can be especially problematic and very dangerous. In this day and age, the need to secure our phones is more critical because of the sheer amount of sensitive data on these devices. Studies show that mobile banking is one of the top three most used apps by Brits. If your mobile is stolen or hacked, a poorly secured device will expose you to all types of cybercrime including identity theft, data theft and all types of cyberattacks.  

Click here for 15 ways to boost the security of your Android phone.

9. Unsecured Wi-Fi

Free and public Wi-Fi networks found in public places such as train stations, coffee shops, malls, restaurants and hotels, are a popular hunting ground for hackers. This is because most users constantly connect to these potentially insecure networks without taking any steps to secure their data. If you’re staying safe and secure when accessing public networks, you’re potentially leaving the door open to man-in-the-middle and other cyberattacks that might be lurking in the background of these networks

Here are a few tips to keep you safe on public Wi-Fi

  • Use a VPN to ensure that your public Wi-Fi connections are made private, especially when you are visiting websites that require you to login with a username and password.
  • Turn off file sharing before you logon to a public Wi-Fi network, because this can leave you vulnerable to hackers.
  • Always use secure websites when using public Wi-Fi. Note however that some sites that use HTTPS and SSL are actually setup by cybercriminals. For example, 58% of phishing websites now use HTTPS.

10. Billing fraud

Billing fraud (also known as toll fraud) is a fraudulent process where a malicious app on your smartphone silently subscribes you to a vast number of premium wireless application protocol (WAP) services. In some countries, an acknowledgement is required from the user before the charge is processed. To counter this, the malware will intercept the acknowledgement messages from the infected device. As a result, the scam is acknowledged by you and continues and can cost you hundreds of pounds per month. Unfortunately, you may not detect it until you receive a massive bill from your provider. Since your service provider already received an acknowledgement from your phone, you are likely to be found liable for the charges.

The most persistent form of this threat is joker malware (a.k.a. bread) which has been plaguing Android phones since 2017. Joker malware gets on your phone by attaching itself to legitimate apps in the Google Play store. It has been designed to be very hard to detect. It constantly evolves, making it tricky to detect on your phone. Once installed on your phone, it starts to spy on your activities, harvesting information and sending it back to cybercriminals. It can also steal text messages, contact lists and device information. The Google security team has removed 1,700 apps from Google Play that this malware attaches itself to, but it keeps on re-emerging.  

If you own an Android smartphone, go through your app list to see if you have any of the following apps installed on your phone.

  • All Good PDF Scanner
  • Mint Leaf Message-Your Private Message
  • Unique Keyboard – Fancy Fonts & Free Emoticons
  • Tangram App Lock
  • Direct Messenger
  • Push Message – Texting&SMS
  • Emoji Wallpaper
  • Fingertip GameBox
  • Private SMS
  • One Sentence Translator – Multifunctional Translator
  • Style Photo Collage
  • Meticulous Scanner
  • Desire Translate
  • Talent Photo Editor – Blur focus
  • Safety AppLock
  • Care Message
  • Part Message
  • Paper Doc Scanner
  • Blue Scanner
  • Hummingbird PDF Converter – Photo to PDF
  • All Good PDF Scanner

If you are using one of these apps, you must remove it from your phone immediately to avoid getting defrauded.

Categories
ANDROID SECURITY

How to Identify and Avoid Fake Android Apps in the Google Play Store

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Fake apps are one of the biggest and most dangerous cybersecurity threats facing mobile users. According to McAfee, nearly 65,000 fake apps were detected in December 2018 alone, and Google has taken down thousands of malware-ridden apps, games, antivirus and financial Trojans posing as apps from the Play store.

Many of these malicious apps have had millions of downloads worldwide, and remain a major mobile security concern on Google Play as well as the Apple App Store.  In 2017, Google removed 700,000 malicious apps from the Play Store.

Google Play has put in place a variety of safeguards designed to reject potentially malicious applications. But the bad news is, with every new innovation from Google, attackers constantly hit back by coming up with new imaginative techniques designed to con Google into accepting their submissions. Futhermore, the fake apps are getting better, and getting more downloads.

In this article, we look at what fake apps are, how they are distributed and how you can identify them.

Big companies like Facebook are able to chase down bogus apps across the internet and get them removed, but smaller businesses don’t have that luxury. For example Chingari, a short video app, has dozens of fake as on Google Play, some of which have been downloaded up to 50,000 times. Similarly, according to the co-founder of nCore Games, the number of fake apps on the Play Store runs into pages.

What are fake apps?

A fake app is malicious software program that mimics the look and functionality of a legitimate app, but has a dangerous extra payload. To create a fake app, all an attacker has to do is to register themselves as a developer. They can then download a legitimate app and inject it with malicious code. Once that is done, they can upload it to the Play Store.

The goal of fake apps is to deceive unsuspecting users into downloading them. Some fake apps are designed to rake in ad revenue by bombarding users with display advertisements.

For example in 2017, the fake WhatsApp application looked exactly like the legitimate version, and tricked more than 1 million people into downloading it before it was removed from Google Play. A fake Facebook Messenger app was downloaded over 10 million times. Fake apps and games are not to be taken lightly. Once your phone has been compromised by a fake app, attackers can steal your personal data, banking details, credit card information, infect your device with malware or harvest your login credentials.

They can also track your location, subscribe your phone to premium services, take photos using your camera and even send text messages from your phone. Avast has blogged about multiple banking Trojans disguised as apps. The problem of fake apps is compounded by the fact that roughly half of users cannot distinguish between real and counterfeit apps.  

  • WhatsApp
  • Facebook Messenger
  • Waze
  • Solitaire
  • Overstock
  • Uber
  • Telegram
  • Avast

How are fake apps distributed?

Counterfeit apps can get onto your phone in several different ways:

Third party app stores.

Third party app stores are app stores that only distribute third party apps, and there are over 300 3rd party app stores worldwide. Each store has its own security vetting processes towards the apps they allow to be listed in their app stores, some of which may not be up to standard.

This means there’s a higher chance that some of these third party stores might offer pirated and malicious apps that can infect your mobile device with dangerous malware like ransomware and Trojans. For example, you might be able to get a popular app at a cheaper price on some third party stores, which may sound enticing. However, that app may have been injected with malicious code that can put your security and privacy at risk.

Official app stores.

Apple App Store and Google Play are the two biggest official distribution channels where you can download apps for your iPhone or Android device. Each platform contains native apps (apps Apple built for its iOS operating system, and Google built for Android). These platforms also include third-party apps, which are any apps built by independent developers or established organisations and created to work on Apple and Android devices.

The official stores implement strict security vetting measures for apps that are submitted to the stores for approval. Developers must meet rigorous security standards and follow specific quality metrics. In fact, Google has rejected 55% of Android apps submitted to the Play Store. However, some malicious apps are still able to slip through the cracks, and millions of malware-infected fake apps have been downloaded through the official app stores. Hackers infect popular apps with malware and upload the apps to the Play Store.

For example, a variant of an Android banking Trojan was found hidden in Solitaire and Flashlight apps. Once you download it, it will target banking apps on your phone and create fake overlays on genuine banking apps. This helped the app steal banking details. The malware targeted household names like Citibank, HSBC, Chase and many others.

Social engineering campaigns

Cybercriminals also use a range of social engineering tactics to trick unsuspecting users into downloading malicious apps or games that have been infected with malware. For example, they can offer knockoffs of popular apps at extremely low prices to fool users into downloading the fake apps.

How can I identify fake Android apps in the Google Play Store?

Many fake apps are almost flawless and near impossible to distinguish from the original which is why so many users fall victim to this type of cyberattack. For example, the fake version of WhatsApp fooled over 1 million users into downloading it. If you’ve downloaded a fake app in the past and want to ensure you never do so again, you must learn how to identify the characteristics that distinguish a knockoff from the original. Scammers rely on people not being meticulous enough to notice the discrepancies between fake and genuine apps. To avoid falling victim, it is important to sometimes take a few extra minutes before downloading any app.

Read on to learn how to identify bogus Android apps in the Google Play Store:

Research the app name.

Cybercriminals will often use app names that are very similar to the original because they cannot use the same name as the legitimate app. So, the app name will always be a variation of the original name. For example, the fake WhatsApp application used the name ‘Update WhatsApp’, which was enough to generate over 1 million downloads.

But the word ‘Update’ in the app name should’ve raised a red flag because legit apps never use such words in the app name. They would just update the app. If the name of the app is misspelt, even slightly, then you can be 100% sure that you’re looking at a knockoff.  Another area to look at is the app’s classification. Many fake apps have the wrong classification. For example, if you see a messaging app classified as “Lifestyle”, that should raise a major red flag.

If there are several apps with the same or similar icons of the same app, that is an indication that you will have to take a few minutes to identify the legitimate apps. Research the app’s publisher. For example, a fake app for Overstock.com used the name Overstock Inc. as the publisher. A search of the app name will show that the name is bogus. You can do this by typing the name of each app into Google. This will reveal the fake apps because the legit apps will have several links back to the original manufacturer’s website.

What is the developer’s profile?

The developer’s name is placed right below the app. Before you click the download button, check out the developer by doing a search online. A real developer will have a professional website and other verifiable details. Take a look at their profile. Developers with tags like “Top developer” or “Editor’s choice” are highly likely to be authentic.

You can also do a search for the official website. If there is a discrepancy between the developer’s name and what is on the official website, then you’re looking at a malicious app. Sometimes though, this can be tricky. For example, in the case of the fake WhatsApp app, the developer’s name was identical to the official WhatsApp app except for a whitespace character added to the end of the name, which was enough to make it different.

What are people saying?

You can find out about other people’s experiences with the app by reading the reviews. Bogus apps will always have fake reviews. However, you cannot always rely on an app’s reviews because many users might still be enjoying the app’s features not knowing that the app is actually malicious. In any case, if there are not many reviews but they are all 5-star rated, that should be a huge red flag because it is not normal. You can generally spot a fake review because they generally lack depth and are often very generic with bad grammar.

What is the date of publication?

A recently published app that is in high demand can be warning sign that the app is bogus. Apps that are popular have been on the market for a long time, and would have gone through a few updates. Most fake apps will only be available for a short while in the Play Store and will not have gone through any updates. They will have the published date. Original apps on the other hand will have the words “Updated on” instead of a specific date. For example, the fake Overstock app had a publication date of October 26 2020.

How many downloads has the app had?

Popular apps generally have millions of downloads, but if the app is a knockoff, it will often have a few thousands or hundreds of thousands. For example, the legit Facebook app has over 500 billion downloads, while a fake app can have millions. If you see an app purporting to be a popular app, the number of downloads should tell you whether the app is real or counterfeit.

Be wary of apps with big discounts.

Cybercriminals often use big discounts to lure unsuspecting users to download malicious apps from unofficial and third party app stores. If you find a popular app that is offered at very low price, that is a huge red flag that the app is fake. During the holidays there is always a proliferation of fake, malware-ridden Black Friday and Cyber Monday apps with brand names of top retailers used in these malicious apps. The apps are typically designed to steal login credentials or credit card details.

Check out the screenshots.

Screenshots are another way to look for red flags. Screenshots are generally used to give users an idea of the app’s interface, and genuine developers will use professional graphics copied from the original app. On the other hand, scammers typically use image-editing software like Photoshop to create their screenshots. Now, there’s a chance that the screenshots may be stolen from the original Play Store listing to make them look authentic. But they will often use their own words and taglines that are not typically used by the original developer.

Read the description.

A poorly written description is a dead giveaway. Genuine developers will use good, clear English to describe their app and its features and benefits. Descriptions for fake apps are often riddled with bad grammar and spelling mistakes or look like they were produced by a bot.

Check the permissions.

Whenever you install an app, it will ask for permissions to be able to perform its full functionality on your device. If an app asks for permissions that are way more than it needs to perform its basic functionality, consider this a red flag. For example, photo editing app Meitu came under scrutiny when it started to access personal information such as location services, SIM card number, local IP address, etc. and sending the harvested info off to servers in China. If a camera app requests permission to access your location or contact list, you’re better off deleting the app because it is likely to be bogus.

What to do if you discover a fake app on Google Play

If you discover a fake app in the Play Store, the first thing you should do is to report it to Google and let them know the app is fake. To do this, scroll down to the bottom of the page and tap on “Flag as inappropriate”. Next, select the reason why you’re reporting the app, which would be the Copycat or impersonation option. Tap on submit, and you’re done.

Categories
ANDROID SECURITY

15 Ways to Boost the Security of Your Android Phone

Reading Time: 12 minutes

Smartphones have become indispensable. They hold the key to our digital lives, which is why it is vitally important to keep them safe and secure. Android is the largest computing platform in the world, and that makes it a big target for cyberattacks.

If an attacker gets hold of your phone and is able to get unfettered access, they can learn a lot about you. They can steal your personal data, get into your banking app, steal your financial information, access your family photos, impersonate you, use social engineering tactics to scam your friends, etc.

You can prevent all of this from happening by doing everything in your power to secure your device in the same way that you probably guard the information on your laptop or desktop. 

Read on for 15 easy ways to protect your Android smartphone…

  1. Lock your phone with a passcode.
  2. Be careful how you assign permissions.
  3. Setup a remote device locator.
  4. Encrypt your data.
  5. Add applock software.
  6. Set your updates to be downloaded and installed automatically.
  7. Disable automatic connections on your phone
  8. Avoid messing with Android’s security settings.
  9. Delete your cookies, messages, cache and browsing history on a regular basis.
  10. Protect your phone and digital life with a VPN.
  11. Limit the amount of apps you have on your phone.
  12. Disable Bluetooth when you’re not using it.
  13. Use Chrome’s safe browsing feature.
  14. Encrypt your mobile cloud backups
  15. Harden your privacy settings.

1. Lock your phone.

Setting a passcode is the quickest and easiest way to boost the security of your smartphone. This should be fairly obvious, but there are many smartphone owners who just can’t be bothered with the inconvenience of having to type in a passcode every time they want to get into their phones.

There are various types of screen locks that you can use including a password, PIN or pattern. A password can be alphanumeric, while a PIN can only be 6 numeric digits. With a pattern, you connect the four dots on the screen to create the screen lock, and you’ll need to recreate this pattern every time you want to login to your phone.

Using a strong screen lock to secure your device is absolutely mandatory. No matter how cautious and careful you are with your phone, there’s no guarantee that you won’t forget it somewhere, or someone won’t snatch it out of your hand. Putting a passcode ensures that you have at least one layer of protection no matter what happens to it. If you secure your phone with a strong screenlock, you won’t have to worry about unauthorized access and your data will always be protected.

You can configure a screen lock for your screen by going to Settings > Privacy > Lock Screen > Screen Lock Type.

Using a simple 6-digit numeric pin or password offers the best security for your phone. Avoid using a pattern because it only offers a moderate level of seurity, and can be breached quite easily. You can also use a biometric authentication system if your phone offers one. This type of multi-layer security ensures that even if someone manages to get into your phone, they won’t be able to access your data.

Other built-in Android security features include:

  • Smart Lock: this is a feature that allows you to keep your device unlocked in certain situations when security is not an issue.
  • Device Protection: also known as factory reset protection, this feature is automatically enabled when a user sets up a Google account to the device. It prevents use of the device after a factory reset until the original Google account credentials are provided.
  • Find My Device: used to remotely trace, locate and wipe Android devices.
  • Verify Apps: this tool is designed to prevent you from downloading dangerous apps from Google Play and other 3rd party sources. It also continuously scans your device for harmful apps to catch rogue apps that slip through the cracks. To enable this feature, tap Settings > Google > Security > Verify apps, then switch on the ‘Scan device for security threats’ setting.
  • Google Play Protect: this is a feature Google rolled out with Android Oreo (v. 8.0). It aims to keep malicious apps at bay by constantly scanning apps in the Play store and on your device. To see Play Protect’s settings, tap on Settings > Google > Security > Play Protect. 

2. Be careful how you assign permissions.

Apps have the easiest access to your data, so it is critically important to review the permissions you give them properly. Before you install any app, establish that it’s reputable enough by putting it through a rigorous vetting process. Those apps will ask for permissions to do certain things or to access certain data, and it’s up to you whether to grant those permissions. The permissions are typically needed in order for the app to function properly. For example, a photo editing app will need access to your camera and photos in order to work. If you don’t provide that access, the app won’t be able to function. But if that app is requesting access to your location data and your contacts, you’re going to have to think twice about granting that permission. There’s just no conceivable reason why it should want to access your location. The good thing is that you can grant all or some of the permissions, and you can manage how you grant those permissions in the main settings of your device.

Whenever an app needs access, you’re going to get a permission request pop up with the list of permissions it needs. You just have to establish whether each of the permissions it asks for are necessary for the app’s functionality.

You should be especially cautious about apps that request access to the following permission groups:

  • Body sensors
  • Calendar
  • Camera
  • Contacts
  • Location
  • Microphone
  • Phone
  • SMS
  • Storage

With the release of Android 6.0, Android allows you to determine which permissions to grant an app after the app is installed. But before you grant any permissions, read the list so you’re aware of what permissions the app is asking for and why it needs them. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How trustworthy is this app?
  • Is it clear why this app needs these permissions?
  • Does the developer explain why they are needed?

If the app is from an unknown developer and he isn’t transparent about why the permissions are needed, you’re better off searching for an alternative unless you understand why the permissions are needed for that type of app. The permissions are usually listed at Google Play or on the developer’s website along with the reasons for each permission request. It is important to also read the app reviews to ensure that the app isn’t doing something unexpected behind the scenes. 

If you really want to install a specific app but fail to see why it needs the permissions it is asking for, the following apps can help to monitor the app in question. They notify you when an app is trying to access certain data, and provide the option to allow or deny permissions. Note however, that if an app requires a permission and you don’t grant it, it will probably crash.

  • PDroid Privacy Protection (requires root) monitors the types of info your apps request, and lets you allow or disallow on a per-app basis. It allows you to block access to personal or identifying information for each app.
  • LBE Privacy Guard (requires root) lets you know when an app is trying to access data and gives you the option to allow or deny it.
  • PermissionDog lets you know visually how dangerous an installed app is. By scrolling through the list, you can tell which apps are okay and which ones you should monitor closely.

3. Setup a remote device locator.

If you misplace your mobile device or it gets stolen, you’re going to want to get it back pretty quickly, especially if you have a lot of valuable information on it. And probably one of the easiest and most convenient ways to do that is by being prepared for such an eventuality, by setting up a remote device locator such as Find My on iOS or Find My Device on Android. These tools use GPS to identify exactly where your device is at any point in time, so if you simply misplaced your device, you’ll know exactly where to go and pick it up. On the other hand, if it was stolen, you can simply hand over the location to the police so they can recover it for you. But if your smartphone has been stolen and you are worried about someone accessing your private information, Android offers a remote wipe feature that allows you to erase all of the data on your phone.

You can do configure these features in Android Device Manager by going to Settings > Google > Security, and then toggle on these two settings: Remotely locate this device, and Allow remote lock and erase. Note that this will not erase your SD memory card, so any data on there might be vulnerable.

4. Encrypt your data.

Encryption is one of the most powerful tools that you can use to protect your data from falling into the wrong hands, and this capability is built into your phone. Encryption is technical process that uses advanced computer algorithms to transform plain text into something completely unrecognizable. This allows us to completely mask any sensitive piece of information that we want to keep private. So, if even if the information falls into the wrong hands, the encrypted data would be completely useless to an attacker unless they know the encryption key.

Note however, that encryption only protects your data from physical access; it doesn’t protect you from malware or viruses. It only protects the data on your phone if you lose it or someone steals it from you. You don’t have to be a cryptography expert to encrypt the data on your phone. As mentioned earlier, the capability is already built in. On some higher-end Android handsets running Lollipop (5.x) and higher, it’s enabled by default. On older handsets, you have to enable it. Once encryption is enabled, when you enter your passcode on the lock screen, your phone decrypts the data. If someone doesn’t know the encryption PIN or password, they will not be able to access the data.

Things to consider before enabling encryption.

  • Encrypting your phone can take sometimes take several hours.
  • Android won’t start the process unless your battery is at least 80% charged.
  • Your phone must be plugged in throughout the entire process.
  • Your phone must be unrooted.
  • Do not interfere with the process or you’ll likely lose your data.

How to encrypt your Android device

Tap on Settings > security. If your device is already encrypted, it will show up here as encrypted. If not, start the process by tapping “Encrypt Phone”. You’ll need to read the warning signs and have to tap “Encrypt phone” a couple of times. The phone will then reboot and start the encryption process. Next, you’ll get a progress bar and estimated time till completion. Once the process is complete, the phone will reboot and you’re done.

5. Add app lock software

Installing app lock software presents another important layer of security that you can add to your smartphone to prevent rogue apps and unauthorised users from gaining access to confidential and sensitive data on your phone. You can use a free app like App Lock for this purpose. The fact of the matter is, apps downloaded via official app stores like Google Play or the Apple App Store are not guaranteed to be safe. Some of the apps you get from these official stores can be infected with malware that can take over your phone’s system by obtaining administrative rights. This can put your most sensitive apps at risk. App lock software allows you to protect the data in individual apps.

Which apps should be locked down?

  • Email: locking down your email applications ensures that your conversations and personal information are kept secure.
  • Shopping apps: apps like Amazon, eBay and other shopping apps should be locked down to prevent misuse.
  • Dropbox: this app is likely to contain sensitive data like your medical history, tax information, legal docs, and you’ll want to lock it down for security and privacy.
  • Banking apps: the use of mobile banking surged during the lockdown with millions of users downloading mobile banking apps. Locking down your banking app is essential to prevent your confidential data being compromised in the event that you inadvertently download rogue apps to your phone.
  • Credit card apps: credit card information is sensitive data, and you’ll want to lock down your apps to protect this data.
  • Social media apps: it is important to lock down your social media apps to prevent fraudsters impersonating you on these platforms.

6. Set your updates to be downloaded and installed automatically.

Outdated software is one of the most common reasons why computing devices get hacked. Attackers are constantly changing their tactics and looking for new ways to crack Android’s powerful security features. As they do, Google keeps up by releasing security updates that address newly discovered vulnerabilities in the operating system. That is why it is so important that you keep your phone updated with the latest security patches. This not only ensures that you’re maintaining your phone’s security, it also means that you’re not missing out on any new features.

Google releases security patches for Android every month, while more comprehensive updates are released annually in August. The current version of Android is 11, which was released to the public in autumn 2020. Google no longer uses he dessert names on its latest software versions, so you can simply expect a numerical format from now on.

Your Android phone should prompt you whenever there’s a new update to install. Alternatively, you can tap Settings > About phone > System updates to find out if there are any newly released updates to download. 

Here are previous versions of Android:

  • Android Donut (v1.6)
  • Android Eclair (v2.0)
  • Android Froyo (v2.2)
  • Android Gingerbread (v2.3)
  • Android Honeycomb (v3.0)
  • Android Ice Cream Sandwich (v4.0)
  • Android Jelly Bean (v4.1)
  • Android KitKat (v4.4)
  • Android Lollipop (v5.0)
  • Android Marshmallow (v6.0)
  • Android Nougat (v7.0)
  • Android Oreo (v8.0)
  • Android Pie (v9.0)
  • Android 10

7. Disable automatic connections on your phone.

One of the most important security measures you can make on your phone is to prevent your Wi-Fi from connecting automatically to open networks. This is because hackers can setup a malicious network that is specifically designed to harvest data. If your phone automatically connects to that network, your device and data is going to be vulnerable. You should be fully aware of every network your phone is connected to.

To stop your Android device from auto-connecting to open networks, tap Settings > Network & Internet > Wi-Fi > Wi-Fi preferences. Turn off the Connect to public networks toggle switch to disable this feature.

8. Avoid messing with Android’s default security settings.

Each and every Android device comes with “Unknown sources” disabled in the security settings. This message will appear every time you want to download an app from a 3rd party app store other than Google Play or from a Google partner like Samsung. It simply means that the platform you want to download from hasn’t gone through the rigorous Google vetting process.

Downloading apps from “Unknown sources” is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, even when downloading an app from a secure site like Amazon, you’ll get the “Unknown sources” message. The problem is enabling the setting for no credible reason or keeping it on all the time. This will render your phone vulnerable to websites that try to install an app on your phone without your permission. You can always turn on the Unknown sources setting on to install an app from a trusted store like the Amazon app store, but you must always remember to keep the setting disabled again once you’re done.

To turn the Unknown settings feature on or off, tap Settings > Security and then toggle off the Unknown sources setting to switch it off or on as you need it.

9. Delete your cookies, messages, cache and browsing history on a regular basis.

Your browsing history stores a lot of personal information about you, and is a goldmine for hackers. They pose a security threat because hackers can use your cookies to breach your account even without a password. So, to improve your privacy, make sure that you delete your virtual footprint. This will minimize the amount of data that can be harvested.

Here’s how to clear your history:

  1. Open Chrome app
  2. At the top right, tap More > History
  3. Tap clear browsing data
  4. Next to Time Range, select how much history you want to delete. Tap All time if you want to clear everything.
  5. Check browsing history.
  6. Tap clear data.

10. Protect your phone with a VPN

Using a VPN is one of the most powerful ways to secure the data that leaves your internet-connected mobile device. The VPN protects your data by encrypting the data, providing you with the benefits of a private network even while you’re on a public one. VPNs allow you to use free, public Wi-Fi hotspots which are open networks that are frequented by hackers. VPNs also work on phones in the same way that they work on desktops.

Best VPNs for Android

  1. Hotspot Shield
  2. NordVPN
  3. Surfshark

11. Limit the amount of apps you have on your phone.

You can have too many apps on your phone, and the more apps you have, the bigger the chances of a security breach. If you don’t plan to use an app more than once, delete it after you’ve used it. When you have too many apps on your phone, those that haven’t been updated with security patches will leave your phone vulnerable to rogue apps and hackers. Installing less apps and just the ones you plan to use will minimise the dangers of your phone being compromised.

12. Disable Bluetooth when you’re not using it.

As convenient as Bluetooth can be, it is a bad idea to keep it on all the time when you’re not using it. In and of itself, Bluetooth comes with a plethora of security issues and concerns. For example, a vulnerability known as BlueBorne gave a hacker control of Bluetooth-enabled devices, even when the device wasn’t connected to anything when the attack began. BlueBorne attacks also spread from device to device.

While hackers technically need to be within Bluetooth range to attack your phone, if there are infected devices around, they can get some extra distance. By leaving Bluetooth enabled on your phone all the time, you’re exposing yourself to this type of security issue. It can be an incredibly convenient tool when you need to use Bluetooth, but once you’re done using it, you should turn it off. And if you don’t use it at all, then you should make sure that it is off.

To disable Bluetooth, tap Settings > Connections > Bluetooth. Toggle off.

13. Use Chrome’s safe browsing feature.

Browsers are not safe because they run every code from any website without any meaningful verification. This means they can load malicious JavaScript, ads or frames that can remotely take control of  your phone without your knowledge. To avoid the safety issues that browsers present, Chrome for Android offers a “safe browsing” mode that will warn you of any known rogue websites before you navigate to that site.

To activate Chrome’s safe browsing feature, open the browser, tap the three-dot menu button in the top corner of the screen, tap Settings > Privacy, and then make sure the “safe browsing” setting is checked.

If privacy is your biggest concern when browsing, you can use Firefox Focus, which is designed to automatically block a range of online trackers or DuckDuckGo.

14. Encrypt your mobile cloud backups.

Mishandling your mobile data backups can often be the source of a security breach. Whenever you’re syncing or backing up your data to the cloud, make sure that any private data you’re backing up is encrypted. Cloud backups are oftentimes an easy target for hackers. If you use Google Drive, your cloud backups should use the same 2 factor authentication as your Google account. This will ensure that you’re in full control of the security of your data, and that no one but you can access your data in the cloud.

15. Harden your privacy settings.

You can enhance the security of your phone by optimizing your privacy settings in the following ways:

  • Disable location services. If you are worried about Google tracking your location, you can disable this feature. Note that if you do this, you will also disable Find My Device. To disable location services, tap Settings > Connections > Location. Toggle switch to off.
  • Opt out of personalized advertising. Tap Settings > Google > Ads > Switch on Opt out of interest-based ads or Opt out of ads personalization.
Categories
ANDROID SECURITY

11 Warning Signs Your Android Smartphone Has Been Hacked

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Mobile malware is malicious software that is designed to wreak havoc on your phone, and it can be very dangerous. Once your phone has been infected with malware, attackers can inundate your phone with annoying pop up ads, steal your personal information, bank details, credit card information or harvest your login credentials to sell on the dark web. They can also track your location, subscribe your phone to expensive premium phone services, and even send spam email from your phone. Mobile malware works silently in the background trying to avoid detection.

What are the different forms of mobile malware?

Malware on your phone can come in several different forms, including the following:

  • Mobile adware: programmed to inundate you with unwanted pop-up ads. This is the most prevalent form of mobile malware, accounting for 72% of all mobile malware.
  • Banking Trojan: this type of malware is designed to steal bank details and financial information without the user’s knowledge. This malware targets Android devices, and can spy on over 150 apps, including those of banks and cryptocurrency exchanges as a way to harvest sensitive information.  
  • Mobile ransomware: this is a form of malware that steals sensitive data or locks a mobile device and then demands a ransom to release the data or unlock the device.
  • Rooting malware: unlocks the operating system of Android devices to take full control by obtaining root privileges.  
  • SMS malware: manipulates your phone by subscribing you to premium services. 
  • Spyware: Keeps tabs on your phone activity, records the information and sends it to a third party without your knowledge.

How does malware on your phone work?

Some mobile malware work by exploiting vulnerabilities in the phone’s operating system to give itself administrator privileges. By doing this, users don’t have to agree to permission requests in order for the malicious app to access sensitive information. This makes it easier to wreak havoc on the phone without being detected. 

Read on for warning signs that your Android smartphone has been compromised with malware:

  1. Battery drains abnormally. This is a symptom that many users may overlook because it might seem normal. But if you’ve recently downloaded an app(s) and your phone’s battery begins to drain faster than normal, you may have downloaded a fake app that has infected your phone with malware. The phone’s battery is draining fast because the malware is carrying on its activities in the background, making your device work overtime.
  2. Phone runs slow. Some lagging on your phone is normal. However, if your phone is relatively new and lags frequently, this could be caused by malware that is draining the phone’s resources, causing it to lag. To check out what is draining your phones’ resources, tap on Settings > Apps > Running. This will display all of the running apps along with the amount of RAM they are using. It will also show you how much RAM is available.
  3. Overheating. If you watch videos or movies on your phone, you can expect some overheating. However, if your phone overheats even though you don’t use it vigorously, this could be caused by a malicious app that is working in the background.
  4. Unexplained increment in phone bills. Some types of malware are programmed to send premium text messages from your phone, which will significantly increase your bills. According to Upstream, smartphone users lose millions of pounds every year due to high data charges from malicious ads. Android is the most notorious OS for ad fraud.
  5. Apps are crashing constantly. If many of the apps on your phone are crashing constantly and you have a lot of RAM and extra storage space on your phone, the first thing you should check is for the presence of malware.  
  6. Unknown apps. If you notice apps that you don’t remember installing on your phone, it is quite possible that malware is automatically installing malicious apps without your knowledge.
  7. Surge in data usage. Malicious apps need to send and receive information to their creators via the internet.If after checking data usage, you find a sudden surge from unknown apps, this is a good indication that you may have spyware on your phone.
  8. Overbearing popup ads. If you’re constantly inundated with display ads in the lock screen or overlaying other apps and sites, consider this a red flag that your phone is infected with adware.
  9. Strange emails sent to your contacts. If you are getting messages from your contacts about email messages that you did not send, this is another warning sign that your phone might have been infected with malware.
  10. Sudden password changes: If you are suddenly not able to get into your online accounts on your phone, this is another warning sign that your phone has been taken over by some form of malware.
  11. User interface changes. If the phone’s user interface suddenly changes without you doing anything to change it, this is a clear sign that you have a rogue app that is controlling your phone without your knowledge.

How can I get rid of mobile malware from my Android device?

Malware apps often mess with the administrative settings of the device to give themselves core admin privileges. This means it cannot simply be uninstalled from your phone in the normal way. If your phone is infected with malware, follow these steps to delete the offending app(s) from your device:

  1. Tap on Settings > Security > Device administrators
  2. Locate the malicious app
  3. Uncheck the box
  4. Choose deactivate
  5. Select OK
  6. Uninstall the app from apps or Application Manager
Categories
ANDROID SECURITY

7 Things to Check Before Buying a Used Android Smartphone

Reading Time: 4 minutes

With premium Android models costing close to £1,000, buying a second-hand handset might seem an attractive and cost-efficient solution. But while you can pick up a refurbished Samsung Galaxy smartphone at a great price, you need to do your due diligence to make sure that you’re actually getting a safe and secure phone in the process.

The great thing about buying a second-hand handset from a retailer instead of a private buyer is that you have consumer rights that are protected by law. This means that you have 14 days to check out the phone, and you are entitled to a full refund if you return it for any reason within that timeframe.

With that being said, here are 7 things to check when buying a second-hand handset.

Is the phone still receiving security updates and patches from the manufacturer?

If the phone was released in 2012 or earlier, it is likely to be running an outdated version of Android. This means if you buy the phone, you won’t be receiving critical security updates that can keep you and your data safe from cyberattacks. Having a current OS and updated apps is one of the most important ways to protect your phone and keep it secure.

Software updates can keep malware from working on your phone in the first place. Usually, when phone manufacturers discover phone software vulnerabilities that can be exploited by cybercriminals, they get it fixed and that fix is sent out to the phone in the form of a security patch. For example, Google releases security patches for Android every month. But Google no longer issues security updates for version 6.0 of the Android operating system or below. Using a refurbished Android phone that doesn’t receive critical security updates puts your security and privacy in jeopardy.  

To check an Android OS version, tap Settings > About Phone or About Device > Tap Android version.

2. Is the phone stolen?

No matter how good the deal sounds, buying a stolen phone is a strict “hell-no!” Apart from the moral dilemma of using stolen property, there’s every chance the phone won’t be with you for long. The latest Android devices have the ability to erase the phone remotely which will render the phone completely useless. Fortunately, avoiding buying a stolen phone is a quick and easy process. You can use a mobile checking tool such as MobiCheck to check that the phone you’re buying isn’t stolen.

3. Is the phone fake?

The phone you’re interested in buying might look like the real thing from the outside, but that’s no guarantee that it is actually the real thing. The marketplace is full of millions of fake Chinese or Korean phones that are “hard to discern knockoffs”. To avoid getting ripped off, you need to check the IMEI number, serial number and model number. Every phone comes with a unique IMEI number.

Follow these steps to ensure that you’re not buying a counterfeit handset:

You can dial ^#06# on the phone to get the IMEI number. You can also get it by going to Settings > About Device> Status. The model number, serial number and IMEI will be displayed. Compare the model number with that printed on the back of the phone or its battery to see if they match. You can also check by going to imei.info. Put in the number and hit “check”. The system will automatically check the phone’s information. If it shows something different from what is on the phone, the handset is fake.

4. How reputable is the seller?

This is one of the most important things to check when buying a second-hand phone. You can often find fantastic deals from private sellers on sites like Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace or eBay. But buying from a private seller increases the odds that you may end up with a phone that’s more trouble than its worth. For this reason, you might be better off buying a refurbished phone from a retailer rather than buying a used phone from a private seller.

Refurbished phones include handsets returned by customers who changed their mind during the 30-day cooling off period after they signed a contract. Before being put on sale, these phones have been thoroughly checked and tested. Most will also offer a warrantee that allows you to get a replacement if something goes wrong with the phone within the allotted time period.

5. Does it have good battery life?

One of the most important things to check on an Android phone is its battery life. If the phone drains the battery fast even after you have rebooted the phone, consider this a red flag that the phone may be infected with malware. There may also be power-hungry 3rd party apps working in the background that are making the device work twice as hard. The most common code to check battery information across Android devices is *#*#4636#*#* To see your battery status, type the code in your phone’s dialer and select the battery information menu. If there is no issue with the battery, it will show battery health as ‘good’. You can also use AccuBattery to get more insight into the phone’s battery health.

To identify apps that may be consuming too much battery life, tap Settings > Battery usage in the three dot menu at the top right. Here, you’ll see the apps that have consumed the most battery on the phone since the last time it was charged.

6. Has the phone been paid off?

If you’re buying a used phone from a private seller, you need to prioritise checking the history of the phone before purchasing it. If the phone still has finance on it (e.g. if it’s still under contract), buying that phone would be a big risk because the phone’s carrier will block the phone until the outstanding amount is paid off by the contract owner. You can use CheckMend to check the phone’s history. CheckMend is an online searchable database. For £1.99, they will provide you with a full history of the handset.

7. Does the phone have malware preinstalled?

Before you buy your phone, one of the very first things you should always do is to research the brand of phone. This is because hundreds of different Android smartphones have been found to have malware built in. Most of the affected devices are not certified by Google, and come from manufacturers like ZFE, Archos and myPhone. You would think that taking precautions by avoiding dodgy websites and apps would be enough to keep you safe, but there’s nothing you can do when the malware actually comes preinstalled on the phone.

To check if your device is Google certified, tap Settings > Play Protect Certification