Beware: ad slingers thinly disguised as security apps 0 50

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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Meltdown and Spectre 0 300

 Microsoft released Security Advisory 18002 on Wednesday, January 3, 2018 to mitigate a major vulnerability to Windows in modern CPU architectures. ESET released Antivirus and Antispyware module 1533.3 the same day to all customers to ensure that use of our products would not affect compatibility with Microsoft’s patch.

The first few days of 2018 have been filled with anxious discussions concerning a widespread and wide-ranging vulnerability in the architecture of processors based on Intel’s Core architecture used in PCs for many years, as well as processors from AMD, and even affecting ARM processors commonly used in tablets and smartphones.

The good news is that ESET can help protect against the types of malware that could take advantage of these vulnerabilities.

And, ESET was one of the very first security vendors to allow the Microsoft patch against the flaw to be enabled.

While ESET protects against potential malware infection, you should also take these steps to secure your computers and data:

  • Make sure your browser is up to date. For Chrome or Firefox users:
    • Mozilla has released information describing their response, including how Firefox 57 will address these security flaws.
    • Google has stated, “Chrome 64, due to be released January 23, will contain mitigations to protect against exploitation.” In the meantime, you can enable “Site Isolation” found in current stable versions of Chrome to provide better protection.
  • Make sure you update your ESET software, then update your Windows OS to protect against this exploit. To update ESET:
  • Customers should review ESET’s Knowledgebase article for important updates.
  • See this great collection of tips, articles and recommendations from the Google Project Zero team.
  • If you have a cloud-based server or have a website hosted by hosting provider, check to see what mitigations they have implemented already to prevent Meltdown.

Security trends to look out for in 2018 0 411

After a turbulent 2017 with Cyber Security making regular headlines, looking ahead to the coming year, there will no doubt be further discussions about the threat landscape.

Ransomware Revolution  – Ransomware of Things

Technological advances and their accelerated use have led to a number of scenarios considered unlikely just few years prior, are now within the realm of possibility. The advice going into 2018 from ESET researchers is to back up everything that matters to you, often, by keeping at least some backups offline – to media that aren’t routinely exposed to corruption by ransomware and other malware – in a physically secure location. As the Internet of Unnecessarily Networked Things becomes less avoidable, the attack surface increases, with networked devices and sensors embedded into unexpected items and contexts: from routers to fridges to smart meters, from TVs to toys, from power stations to petrol stations and pacemakers. As everything gets ‘smarter’, the number of services that might be disrupted by malware becomes greater.

Criminals following the money

With data being the most valuable asset, ransomware is set to remain in great demand among cybercriminals. It is important to note that many ransomware attacks are not sophisticated enough or never intended to recover the victim’s data once the ransom has been paid. For these reasons we suggest not only backing up of data online and offline but also implementing proper security measures such as proactively training staff on what phishing emails entail and how to avoid clicking on them and entering any credentials.

Critical infrastructure attacks on the rise

Cyber attacks on the Ukrainian power companies resulted in electricity service being turned off in hundreds of thousands of homes. The implications of this for future attacks of this kind include more than just the power grid but also includes critical manufacturing and food production, water and transport and the defence and healthcare sectors.

Safer for all

This year has seen ESET’s malware analysts continue to help law enforcement crack down on malicious campaigns and, by extension, the criminals spewing them. We are confident that 2018 will bring further successful investigations as we will continue to lend a hand to authorities so that, ultimately, the internet can become a safer place for everyone – except cybercriminals.

Download the full Security Trends 2018 report here