Beware: ad slingers thinly disguised as security apps 0 1301

Fake Security App

According to AV-Comparatives, an independent testing organization, there are significant differences in the level of protection provided by mobile security solutions. However, even the least secure of them are still far better than questionable apps that impersonate security applications in order to display ads to users. Thirty-five such applications have recently been discovered in the Google Play official Android app store.

These apps have Google Play statistics showing a minimum of over six million installs, cumulatively. However, not all those were necessarily real installations, it is possilbe that many were bot downloads posting fake reviews to improve the ratings for the app.

All 35 apps have been flagged by ESET and eventually removed from the store.

In addition to annoying their victims with ads, disguising these apps as security software has some serious negative side effects, too. In mimicking basic security functions – in fact, they all act as very primitive security checkers relying on a few trivial hardcoded rules – they often detect legitimate apps as malicious. And last but not least, they create a false sense of security in the victims, which might expose them to real risks from malicious apps that are not detected as such.

ESET’s analysis has shown that among these 35 apps, only a handful stand out for their specific features: one app is not completely free as it offers a paid upgrade; one app has implemented a primitive, easily bypassed, app-locker manager; another app flags other apps from this group as dangerous by default; and finally, one misuses ESET’s branding.

 

Security-mimicking functionality
In order to stay under the radar, all the shady ad-displaying apps mimic actual mobile security solutions. However, their ‘detection mechanisms’ are incomplete and very primitive, which makes them easy to bypass and prone to false positives.

Our research into these questionable apps has shown that their ‘detection mechanisms’ can be divided into four categories. These mechanisms are identical or almost identical across the whole set of apps.

1) Package name whitelist & blacklist
These whitelists features popular apps such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Skype and others. The ‘blacklists’ contains far too few items to be considered security functionality at all.

2) Permissions blacklist
All apps (including legitimate ones) are flagged if they require some of the listed permissions that are considered dangerous, such as send and receive SMS, access location data, access the camera, etc.

3) Source whitelist
All apps but those from the official Android store, Google Play, are flagged – even if they are completely benign.

4) Activities blacklist
All apps that contain any of the blacklisted activities: that is, parts of applications. This mainly concerns some ad-displaying activities.

Flagged are all apps that contain any of the blacklisted activities, i.e., packages of application that are used in an application. These packages can handle additional functionalities (mainly some ad-displaying activities).

While there is nothing wrong with the idea of activity blacklisting, the implementation in these questionable apps is rather sloppy. For example, Google Ads is included in the blacklist despite the fact that it is a legitimate service. On top of being legitimate, this service is implemented in all of the shady apps we analyzed.

Additional security “functionality”
Some of the questionable security apps are capable of protecting a user’s apps with a password or a pattern locker. The idea behind this seemingly useful feature is to provide the user with another layer of security in selected apps.

However, due to insecure implementation, this feature also fails to provide true security to the user.

The problem is that relevant information is not stored safely on the device – instead of using encryption, which is common baseline practice in cybersecurity, these apps store the names of locked apps and the passwords to unlock them as plaintext.

This means that the data can be accessed after the device is rooted.

Besides compromising the unencrypted data by rooting the phone, there is another way to bypass the app lock. An attacker with physical access to the device can change the app-locking password without knowing the old one!

Conclusion
Having a security solution installed in an Android phone is definitely a good thing. However, not all apps featuring “security” or “antivirus” in their name do what the name promises. Before installing a security solution, think twice: is it really a tool you can safely rely on?

The 35 pseudo-security apps described in this article are not, say, ransomware or other hardcore malware. The only harm they do is displaying annoying ads, making false-positive detections and giving the victim a false sense of security. However, those millions of unwary users who downloaded them could easily have ended up downloading true malware in some similar disguise.

Instead of shady apps with flashy names and icons and outlandish, unsubstantiated promises, seek a reputable security solution. And which one to choose? An independent test by a well-respected testing organization might help.

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Coronavirus con artists continue to thrive 0 467

Man working on laptop

The scam machine shows no signs of slowing down, as fraudsters continue to dispense bogus health advice, peddle fake testing kits and issue malware-laced purchase orders

As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to escalate, more companies are now shifting to remote work as a way of containing the spread of the disease. Similarly, lockdowns and travel bans, among other stringent measures, have become the order of the day across several nations. And to worsen the situation, there is a massive shortage of the required medical kits.

Such a crisis provides fraudsters undue advantage over a vulnerable lot that is financially destabilized, as well as emotionally drained as a result of the pandemic. 

In this case, you would likely receive fake updates regarding the pandemic, as well as non-existent offers for personal protective equipment, among others. Likewise, if you’re a business, you would certainly receive faux purchase orders and payment information.

Fortunately, as a follow up to our previous article about the ways scammers are exploiting coronavirus fears, we provide you with a few examples of the new campaigns aimed at stealing your money or personal information. To enable you to keep your guard up. Shall we?

Fake news/information

As the virus continues to escalate, more people are currently searching for practical information on how they can protect themselves. As a result, scammers have conveniently positioned themselves as the true COVID-19 information “crusaders” by impersonating well-known health organizations, such as the World health organization.

Don’t act surprised if you receive an email (containing an attachment) supposedly coming from a reputable health organization offering you “vital information” on how you can protect yourself from the disease.

For instance, our research team identified one such file containing a Trojan designed to steal personal credentials.

Apart from the WHO, fraudsters are also impersonating the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Accordingly, the FBI has given a warning about scummy emails mainly riddled with malware-infested attachments and links purporting to originate from the CDC.

 To reduce the number of people falling for such schemes, the WHO shares examples of its official email addresses and methods of communication on its website.

Urgent purchase orders and late payments

Owing to the increased pressure from governments to reduce the spread of the virus, Companies, as well as factories, have been forced to streamline their operations according to the current situation. As an example, companies to integrate work from home modules, while factories to either increase or reduce their production capacities depending on their products.

Such erratic changes have brought about a climate of uncertainty that offers fraudsters a thriving environment.

In this case, as a factory owner or executive, be on the lookout for “urgent purchase orders” from “company representatives.” Since this fake orders come from scammers who want to make a kill out of your desperation of making some revenue before things go south.

Sadly, if you download such “urgent orders” (usually in attachments), your PC will be installed with malicious code designed to steal your details.

Below is an excellent example of such an “urgent order”:

Similarly, you would receive a “proof of payment” for you to take care of the order. However, like the last example above, instead of receiving a bank statement, the attached document contains a Trojan injector.

High demand products

A massive increase in demand compounded with an inadequate supply for essential protective items, such face masks has created another avenue for scams.

A typical example of such a scam involves a fraudulent site that is offering “OxyBreath Pro” face masks at a reduced price. These can lure you since there is a shortage of masks, and what is available is highly-priced.

However, if you click on the provided links, you’ll be at risk of exposing your sensitive personal information to the scammers.

Bogus testing gear

The unavailability or short supply of medical kits for testing folks for the virus has also attracted fraudsters in droves.

For instance, the existent low supply of masks, respirators, and hand sanitizers, among other necessities, has prompted scammers to impersonate medical officials.  So that, they can provide non-existent or fake COVID-19 test kits, as well as illegitimate “corona cures.”

As an illustration, more than 2000, links associated with fake coronavirus products have already been identified. Similarly, law enforcement bureaus alongside other relevant bodies have been able to seize US$ 13 million worth of potentially hazardous pharmaceuticals.

To contain these despicable actions, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warnings that it hasn’t allowed the sale or purchase of coronavirus self-testing kits; therefore, it is currently bursting such sellers.

Final thoughts

In a wrap, what we have shared is a representative of the many current fraudulent campaigns doing rounds in our media spaces due to the prevailing situation.

Thus, it is critical to maintaining high alertness to avoid falling victim to both the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the ensuing scam epidemic escalating through the internet. To keep yourself safe from the scams, you can practice the following basics:

  1. Avoid downloading files or clicking on links from unknown sources
  2. Never fall for unrealistic offers or order goods from unverified suppliers. You may also make a point of checking out the purported vendor’s reviews
  3. Invest in an excellent endpoint solution which can shield you from phishing attacks, as well as other forms of scams
  4. If an email suggests coming from a reputable organization, double-check with the firm’s website to confirm its authenticity

If you require consultation, as well as endpoint solutions for your cybersecurity needs, then ESET has been here for you for over 30 years. We want to assure you that we will be here to protect your online activities during these uncertain times, too.

Protect yourself from threats to your security online with an extended trial of our award-winning software.

Try our extended 90-day trial for free.

How To Easily Set Up a VPN at Home 0 300

Woman working at home

As the COVID-19 pandemic has many organizations switching employees to remote work, a virtual private network is essential for countering the increased security risks

Probably, you have been forced to work from home due to the COVID-19 outbreak (recommended to reduce the spread of the virus). However, you are wondering how you will set up your VPN to enable secure communication.

Well, don’t agonize too much; we shall first explain to you what a VPN entails. And then, provide you with a step by step procedure for setting a basic Virtual Private Network. Here we go!

First, what is a Virtual Private Network (VPN)?

Essentially, a VPN is a private channel within a wider (open) network that enables you to communicate with your peers (other nodes with similar settings) without leaking your information through the use of encryption.

Besides, you can utilize a VPN to initiate communication through any network without revealing your location. In any case, a significant number of vendors deal with clients needing such services to avoid being tracked or be able to bypass particular network filters. 

However, in our case, we shall consider a home office VPN that will create a communication tunnel for your practical and secure home office communication.

Is it necessary to set up a virtual private network?

For there to be any communication between two endpoints ─ your pc and the computer in the main office –, they must be configured.

In this case, you’ll require the services of your IT department (if you have one), who will guide you regarding the applications to install, as well as provide you with VPN credentials depending on your needs. Upon installing and configuring the said app, you can automatically establish communication through the provided link. Easy-peasy, right?

On the other hand, if you don’t have an IT department behind your back, then you may have to do it yourself. These shouldn’t; however, scare you at all; it’s not as tough as you might imagine.

But before we explore the nitty-gritty of setting up the VPN, we first need to identify the options we have. In our case, we shall examine two options:

  • Open VPN: standard in small office/home office and business-class routers
  • IP Sec: Is Built-in and commonly used by desktops, smartphones, and laptops

The Open Virtual Private Network

This type of VPN has been around for a long time and has proved itself secure and reliable. It is ideal for small office/ house offices, as well as business-class routers, thanks to its open-source nature.

Procedure for installation

  1. On a contemporary device, go to the router’s configuration screen and click the relevant buttons to access your office network
  2. Download the configuration file generated by the router
  3. Use this file to configure/setup the OpenVPN in your pc, smartphone, or desktop that you want to use to access the Network behind that particular router. In case you get stuck somewhere, you can download or follow an online tutorial for your specific router.
  4. Download the required apps that will enable you to access your new home office VPN from this website.
  5. Install the downloaded applications and then configure them using the files generated when setting up the Open VPN on your office router.

In the event you find the going tough, you can always consult with an online tutorial or IT personnel.

Internet Protocol Security

IPsec is also another technology that has been in use for an extended period to provide reasonable security. It utilizes the same working principles as the OpenVPN; however, it is mostly used on lower-cost routers. Besides, it is a built-in technology in most desktops, laptops, and smartphones; therefore, it eliminates the need for installing another application on your device.

The installation process is similar to that one of OpenVPN. However, implementing a particular router IPsec can sometimes be a little more complicated compared to installing an open VPN.

Fortunately, with the use of native tools on your remote endpoints, you can offset this by just typing in a few things, such as the required IP address and credentials.

Final thoughts

Conclusively, these are some of the simplest virtual net protection options you can install on your home system without requiring massive/no input from IT experts.

Importantly, you will need a beefier than standard broadband for quick communication over the VPN. Also, you may experience slower connections due to the much horsepower required to keep the connection encrypted and tunneled. Nevertheless, this is a small price to pay in exchange for a secure home office communication.

In case you required any advice regarding VPN options or installation services, then ESET has been here for you for over 30 years. We want to assure you that we will be here to protect your online activities during these uncertain times, too.

Protect yourself from threats to your security online with an extended trial of our award-winning software.

Try our extended 90-days trial for free.