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Mobile Malware: How Your Handheld Devices Are At Risk
As times progress, mobile devices have become commonplace. And with a vast number of devices, comes the additional risk of said devices falling under attacks from malware.
Today, we’ll discuss what malware is, how it can affect your systems and the harmful effects of mobile malwares in our daily lives.
What Is A Malware
The term “malware” is short for “malicious software”. The goal of this software is mainly to disable the security of a device and destabilize it, rendering the affected device vulnerable, and even useless in some cases.
Malwares are not designed to attack the operating system it’s currently on. This software multiplies and spreads everywhere possible, and harms all systems equally.
Types of Mobile Malware Threats
There are millions of variants of powerful mobile threats in today’s digital world. But here, we’ll be taking a look at the ones that are used the most, only in different forms:
Adwares come in the form of unwanted advertisements. These ads pose two types of threats:
- Catch the attention of the victim to send them off to more scam sites, from where a mobile device/ system can get affected by even more severe malware.
- Slow the system down with dozens, even hundreds of unwanted ads constantly popping up on the screen of the computer.
The term “bot” is shorthand for “robot”. This type of malware is designed to launch attacks of their own accord, and they use different methods depending on the system the bot is currently residing in.
If programmed right, bots can even launch multiple types of attacks simultaneously to bring down a system completely.
A keylogger is a seemingly harmless software that collects every input you make in your device. For pcs and laptops, it can be every press of your mouse or keyboard, or for smartphones, it can be every tap or touch you make on your phone screen.
Most hackers use a keylogger to find sensitive information like banking details, personal email addresses, or passwords that was typed into a private computer.
As the name suggests, ransomware disables the victim’s access to all their files. The only way to get access back is to pay the attacker, after which they send the victim a decryption key. The decryption key is then used to unlock and return the file access to the victim.
Though this was the standard for hackers to do back in the day, the severity of this attack has only worsened. Now, there are many incidents when a hacker will get paid and still hold onto access to victims' files to get more money out of them.
Rootkits allow a hacker to remotely control any device they have access to. It could be something as simple as a printer, or something as complex as the main server of an organization.
With unlimited access and control of a device/ system, the amount of damage that can be done to a person/company is immeasurable.
Spyware is another type of malware whose name indicates its purpose. Once spyware finds its way into a system, it collects all the information from the infected device.
Taking inspiration from Greek history, Trojan/Trojan horse malware is a virus that will disguise itself as a desirable code in the system, but once opened will affect and disable the entire system.
Even though there have been prevention methods developed against this classic malware, there are still modified trojan malwares that can jeopardize the functionality of any system it infects.
Worms are self-replicating malware, making them potentially devastating whenever a system is infected by them.
Once a worm infects a central server, it’ll multiply itself and use the network to spread itself among other systems that are connected to the same network.
How Mobile Malware Spreads
The prime target for most of the malwares in the open world of the internet is handheld devices. The reason behind this prioritization is that mobile devices contain the most personal data, and can do the most damage once they’re hacked.
There are quite a few ways through which malware can spread through mobile devices. Let’s take a look at the list before we dive into the details.
- Downloading Suspicious Apps
- Using A Mobile OS That Has Vulnerabilities
- Opening Emails From Suspicious/ Unknown Addresses
- Using Public Internet/ Wi-fi Access
- Phishing Attempts Through Texts/ Voice Mails
Downloading Suspicious Apps
This is the most common way of spreading mobile malware. Many hackers will develop a phony app that they upload to a website where apps are free to download, and let unsuspecting users download said app.
Google PlayStore contains apps that are 100% secure for your Android devices, but other websites also allow you to download apps that are mostly pirated, and also less credible.
These sites barely have any moderation or quality control. As a result, it’s very easy for anyone to create a malicious app and upload it to one of these websites to spread the malware around even more.
Using A Mobile OS That Has Vulnerabilities
Aside from the widely used operating systems for smartphones that are Android and iOS, several operating systems have multiple security loopholes. Many prefer to use these systems to feel different and unique.
As appealing as that may be, these operating systems also come with a set of vulnerabilities that can be exploited to great lengths.
Another instance of this issue is mobile devices that have been rooted. Rooting a device means overriding the default security measures that have been installed in the device.
Once you replace the security of your device with third-party software, there’s a higher chance of the system getting completely infected.
Opening Emails From Suspicious/ Unknown Addresses
Email may be an old communication medium, but it’s still going strong in terms of work culture. And hackers know how to exploit their targets through email as well.
Many hackers disguise themselves as colleagues/ family members of a target and send them an email with malicious files attached to them. Once the target opens these files, their system gets infected.
An example of this occurrence known to the entire world is the “ILOVEYOU virus/ Love Letter” malware attack. This virus spread through millions of computers back in 2000 with just an email and an attachment, and cost millions of dollars of damage to businesses worldwide.
Using Public Internet/ Wi-fi Access
Public Wi-Fi accesses are very common nowadays. Public internet access points often have little to no security restrictions in place to make them more accessible to the public. Attackers see this as a goldmine of information.
Often, hackers will take full control of a public access network, and then use the network to snoop on unsuspecting people using said Wi-Fi connection.
Anyone’s smartphone can get infected from connecting to a public access point that may already be compromised and has no additional security features in place.
Phishing Attempts Through Texts/ Voice Mails
There have been many instances where a hacker contacted their target with a text/ voicemail that looks or sounds like an authoritative source that’s asking for their personal information. This way of stealing someone’s information is known as phishing.
Phishing can happen in many different ways, the most common one can be via a fake landing page, that encourages a victim to enter their username/ email and their password.
Once the victim makes the input, instead of logging into their account, the data goes right back to the hacker, which they use to steal the account, or information related to that account.
Phishing is also done with phone texts or voicemails, where a hacker will ask for personal information to be replied to the number where the text or email came from. The hackers then use the login credentials to either steal information or money.
How To Protect Yourself From Mobile Malware
Even though mobile device userbase is at high risk nowadays, you can keep yourself safe if you take a few cautionary steps.