Beware: ad slingers thinly disguised as security apps 0 1218

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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How To Easily Set Up a VPN at Home 0 206

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.

How To Improve Communication Security with MFA 0 603

Person working on two factor authentication

Remote work can be much safer with the basic cyber-hygiene practices in place – multi-factor authentication is one of them

If you are working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is essential to integrate two-factor authentication (2FA) or multi-factor authentication in your daily login routine. That way, you can beat fraudsters at their own game, since the security of your essentials isn’t wholly dependent on passwords alone.

The interesting bit with this technology is that you may have already seen it in action; for instance, when requesting access to your bank account via your smartphone. In this case, you must enter the one-time code sent to you in addition to your password to gain access.

See, enabling such double authentication processes on all your logins can make it difficult for scammers to access your accounts even if they compromise your passwords.

That said, you may now want to know which MFA option to use? Well, we take a look at some of the ways you can utilize MFA to bolster the security of your connections when working remotely.

  1. First, the use of a physical token

To implement this technique, you will require a physical device such as a security USB key, a key fob, or a similar item that will generate a secure code for verification purposes.

You’ll mostly be required to integrate this method if you need access to your cloud-based applications, online office applications, or corporate office technology. The YubiKey or Thetis is an example of such a device that you can purchase with less than US$50.

For convenience purposes, most of these devices are designed tiny; you can carry them in your pant pocket or hang them on a keychain for safety purposes. 

2. Use of a mobile phone

Most likely, you own a smartphone, right?

If yes, you can use it to boost your MFA security capabilities. For instance, you can download an authentication app such as Google Authenticator, ESET Secure Authentication, or Authy for your use.

The only caveat here is to ensure your source has a reputable security background. This is informed by the fact that the app is going to reside inside your smartphone, which is also vulnerable to security threats; therefore, robust security is required to avoid pre-emptying your security efforts.

Importantly, be on the lookout for spam messages when using your phone as they can trick you into compromising your accounts.

Fortunately, if you download applications from reputable sources, you can be offered a solution in case you have an issue with the platform itself.

3. Use of Biometrics

Factually, no single human being shares a fingerprint or retinal scan with another. This unique feature has been conveniently utilized overtime to provide robust multi-factor Authentication. 

You can also utilize the same to secure your connections.  For instance, you can take a picture of your face or scan your fingerprint using a biometric reader – currently, a common feature in smartphones or other devices ─, and then integrate it in your login procedure. These will prevent any other user from accessing your accounts or private information.

On the flip side, some folks feel that the technique is somehow creepy; therefore, give it a wide bath. Besides, it can present a challenge when you need to reset your bio features if your service provider is hacked.

Final thoughts

When scouting for a suitable MFA option for your needs, it is vital to consider one that can easily fit your routine. This stems from the fact that without proper utilization, an MFA option can’t protect you.

Similarly, an MFA technique can allow some side benefits as well. For instance, in the event of a security breach, you will be notified that your password has been interfered with; this can enable you to implement mitigation measures. Not only that, but you also get protected from the would-be attack since the fraudsters wouldn’t have access to your other factors.

In case you require a secure authentication application or consultation regarding MFA options, 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.