Crooks switch to mobile spyware as users move from PCs to phones and tablets: Internet Scambusters #1,034
Mobile spyware - apps that track you and steal information from your phone or tablet - is on the rise.
Android devices are most affected, but it can also turn up on iPhones and iPads.
In this week's issue, we explain how it gets there, how to spot it, and how to protect yourself.
Let's get started…
How To Identify, Remove, and Protect Against Mobile Spyware
Cell phones and other mobile devices are increasingly under attack from spyware and other malicious software.
As more consumers switch from using desktop PCs to mobiles for their day-to-day online browsing, hackers and scammers are doing the same.
Furthermore, they've gotten their hands on highly sophisticated surveillance apps previously only used by big organizations and governments.
The full range of mobile spyware stretches from basic stalkerware capable of monitoring a user's location, text messages, and phone calls to malware capable of reading keystrokes and stealing confidential information.
Stalkerware is widely available online and is used legally for monitoring kids' activities and, more dubiously, the activities of employees or spouses and partners under suspicion from their other half.
We covered stalkerware in an earlier issue: Stalkerware Sees and Hears Everything on Your Phone + Coronavirus Latest.
The worry now is that crooks are finding ways to install dangerous and intrusive spyware on smartphones and tablets, which can be used to collect data for identity theft.
By far the biggest threat targets smart phones using Google's Android operating system but Apple's iPhone and iPad are not immune to attack. Experts say that Android accounts for up to 98% of spyware infestation, with the remainder on Apple devices.
Just a few days ago, an updated version of one of the most damaging pieces of Android spyware, known as Banker, was detected. It infects phones via a link in a text message and is capable not only of stealing data and monitoring all of a phone's activity but also of detecting and secretly deleting additional (multi-factor) security codes.
In other cases, many victims bring troubles on themselves by not using the two companies' official app stores, where programs are rigorously checked for malicious code.
Using other app sources is relatively easy on Android - using settings or an app to allow this, known as "rooting." Apple devices have to be "jailbroken" with special software before they can be used in this way. However, crooks have still managed to get malware onto regular phones using "zero-day exploits" - security vulnerabilities on installed apps before they're found and fixed.
As we discussed in our stalkerware issue, it's also easy for anyone who has access to your device to manually install spyware, which, once set up, can be hidden from view.
In a recent update, security specialist Check Point says: "The current mobile malware landscape is a minefield with more and more vulnerabilities being exploited and spyware software being deployed."
The firm specializes in commercial clients, but it's concerned that individuals whose mobiles become infected may then also provide access to corporate networks.
"Our phones are hubs of confidential data, both personal data such as banking information as well as business data," it says, "with many employees now connected to their company's networks and data via their mobiles, which multiplied over the pandemic with thousands working from home.
"Cybercriminals are utilizing this silent and persistent practice to gain as much access as possible."
Is My Phone Infected With Mobile Spyware?
It's not always easy to know if you have mobile spyware on your device. Some malicious apps are totally hidden. But if it seems to be behaving strangely, like overheating, slowing down, or the battery seems to be draining faster, that could be a sign of infection.
You may also see apps you didn't install, messages you didn't send, higher than usual data usage, unexpected opening when your device is in standby mode, or strange words that keep popping up during autocorrect.
How to Protect Yourself Against Mobile Spyware
As always, the most important protection against mobile spyware is to install, auto-run and regularly update security software. There are even some apps that specifically look for spyware and others that can tell if your device has been rooted or jailbroken.
Other actions you can take include:
- Keep your operating system and individual apps up to date with the latest versions, which usually include security fixes.
- Don't allow others to use your device or to know your passwords. Always keep it locked too.
- Don't root or jailbreak your device.
- Only use the two official app stores for downloads.
- Don't click on links in texts or emails from unknown sources. And even be wary of links from people you do know - their account may have been hacked.
- Check app settings and use the strongest privacy ones, especially to avoid giving away your location.
- Use a virtual private network (VPN) to cover your online tracks. We wrote about VPNs here: Do You Need a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for Your Internet Safety?
How to Remove Spyware from a Smartphone
If you think or know your phone is infected with mobile spyware, there are several things you can do to remove it.
If the app is visible, you might simply be able to uninstall it. Or, if you don't have a security app, you can install one that can detect and remove spyware. We don't have the space for details here, but you can search for these solutions online. But use a reputable one - some fake security apps actually install spyware!
If all else fails, you can reset your device to its original factory state. Search online for how to do this. Note also that if you buy a used phone or tablet, you should always do an immediate factory reset to ensure it's not rooted or jailbroken.
Both Google and Apple work constantly to improve device security but it's never enough. Mobile spyware is here to stay - and ultimately it's down to you to protect yourself.
This Week's Scam Alert
Government imposters: Scammers pretending to be from the government's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) have stolen thousands of dollars by telling victims they're entitled to receive money from settlements such as class action lawsuits. Then they demand upfront fees to collect. The CFPB doesn't operate this way and it never requests payment for any money refunds it may provide.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!