Long before the inception of the internet, in 1971, the world’s first malware was born. Dubbed “The Creeper,” it behaved like a worm by infiltrating Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) computers and spreading via a network protocol posting the message “I’m the creeper, catch me if you can” as it went. The intention was to see if a message could propagate to other computers via ARPANET. Despite initially not having malicious intents, such software has evolved into malicious software (malware, for short). Today, malicious applications are one of the most significant malware (i.e., viruses, worms, ransomware, phishing, and trojans). Not only is it harmful to your person, but it also poses a risk to your business.
What Are Malicious Applications?
Malware, in general, refers to a hostile program code used to corrupt or misuse systems. In addition, not all malware is created equally. It depends on its purpose and the network layout. Since its inception, it has become more complex, bypassing detection and prevention systems.
So, malicious applications are software or code designed for nefarious goals. Those purposes could range from recon (i.e., gathering intel) to intentionally damaging assets (i.e., pre-attack measures aimed at weakening cyber defenses).
This technology has evolved to evade detection. Malicious apps resort to tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) to dodge recognition and, in some instances, masquerade themselves as legitimate and harmless apps. This method is called obfuscation and is a vital trait of these programs. Furthermore, its adaptable nature comes from the need to survive the developments in cybersecurity.
So, a malicious app infiltrates your device and network by extension. It harms, eavesdrops, collects information, and softens your system’s defenses.
Risky Vs. Malicious Applications
There is a distinction you need to make between a malicious application and a risky one. The former aims to harm and inflict damage on your systems (e.g., steal user data and ruin the device’s performance). The latter, however, are not inherently faulty, but certain enterprises would find them an operational risk due to the entities’ risk tolerance.
An example of a malicious app is BankMirage. Its creators cloned an Israeli Bank’s mobile app and tricked the victims into believing it was legit. After they downloaded it, it proceeded with phishing (retrieval of confidential information through e-communication) their baking login usernames. As a business owner, you see what an app like BankMirage can do to your business.
In contrast, an example of a risky application is an app that collects location data but poses a security risk for entities whose employees handle sensitive locations. Or an app that requires access to contact information but is a HIPAA violation risk for healthcare providers storing sensitive patient information in their contacts. In these cases, restricting access can solve the issues.
Malicious Applications and Your Business
Malware is detrimental to you as a person and as a business owner. Malicious applications can:
- Interrupts and disables services: Malware can break networks, thus disrupting business operations. Not to mention, they can disable essential services that your company offers. In turn, it completely breaks down the network infrastructure.
- Retrieves and spoofs personal information (a.k.a identity theft): malicious applications can collect your data through emails or downloads. Once the malware acquires your personal information, it will cease control of your system operations. Not only can it send spam emails on your behalf, but it poses a threat to banks as their transactions are primarily online.
- Controls All Applications on Your Device: Through your personal information, malicious applications cease control over all applications on your device.
- Access Sensitive Information: The malware has access to the server machine. Subsequently, it will access sensitive business information. In some cases, the malware will result in hardware damage.
How You Can Avoid Malicious Applications
Prevention is ultimately better than cure in this case.
- App Store reviews and strange app descriptions: A legitimate app will have a grammatically correct and concise description. Furthermore, a genuine app will have a lot of reviews and ratings from users. A good rule of thumb here is: if an app has been downloaded and then reviewed by thousands, chances are it is legit.
- Checkmark: As with many platforms (i.e., Twitter and TikTok), app stores have a list of verified developers. These developers have a checkmark by their names.
- Exercise extreme diligence with mobiles: Mobiles are more vulnerable than other devices. Keep that in mind when conducting business through your phone. Remember, mobile browsers cannot recognize and combat malicious applications efficiently.
- Official app stores: Exclusively install applications from official app stores such as Google Play. In the case of the Amazon App Store, install it either from the app itself or the official website.
- Security Patches: Ensure the operating systems and apps are updated on their security patches as malicious applications take advantage of such vulnerabilities.
- Regular Cybersecurity Training: Employers should provide such training so employees can identify malware and other security threats. The training does not have to be fancy. Teaching people to be aware and cautious with unsolicited communications is good enough.
- Trained IT department: Having an IT department trained in cybersecurity will guarantee your business’s safety.
- Different levels of privileges: Every employee would have as much access as necessary for them to do their job. If someone were to access a level, they would not be able to access the whole network.
If you suspect the presence of the malware:
- Unusual data usage: Malicious apps run in the background on your device. They often rely on your data to work. So, if your data usage is increasing and you cannot attribute this increase to anything, malware might be the culprit. Temporarily cap your data usage to prevent these apps from performing tasks and communicating in the background until you can identify and uninstall them.
- HIRE A PROFESSIONAL: I cannot stress this enough. If your business is under threat, the wisest thing you can do as a business owner is to pay for a professional to fix it. They know what they are doing, and they are a good investment.
A Word of Caution
According to a recent report, Google is lacking in fighting malicious applications. Not only are malicious apps listed on the App Store, but developers known for their malware are still on it.
Take the developer Mobile Apps Group as an example. They have four apps containing malware listed on Google Apps:
- Bluetooth Auto Connect
- Driver: Bluetooth Wi-Fi, USB
- Bluetooth App Sender
- Mobile transfer: smart switch
Furthermore, the same developers were also previously involved in a malicious application scandal on Google Play. They published a Muslim prayer app that harvested users’ phone numbers.
Thirty-five malicious apps were found on Play Store. They racked up 2 million downloads. Once installed, they would rename themselves and change the icon so they fly under the radar.
Even Google’s built-in malware defense program, Google Play Protect, often misses malicious applications.
Malicious applications are malware that wreaks havoc on your personal and business devices. To avoid detection, they masquerade as other devices or change their appearance once installed. These can stop your business operations as well as steal your identity. You can take several steps to ensure you are protected, such as installing apps made by verified developers and not installing them from browsers/websites. Furthermore, providing your employees with adequate training and restricting all unnecessary access will go a long way in keeping your data secured. And if you ever find yourself under attack, we recommend hiring a professional to take care of it.
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