Protecting Your Mobile Device from Cloned Apps
A report by Softpedia states that most of the popular mobile apps have been cloned to spread malware. That is, hackers have developed apps that look and function like other popular apps, but they have added components designed to steal your information and perform other malicious functions on your mobile devices. Although these apps have been discovered in both Android and iOS platforms, Android is still the larger of the targets.
The problem has become so wide-spread that a researcher at Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology is developing a tool to detect cloned apps on major Android app markets. It is currently estimated that millions of mobile users have downloaded and installed cloned apps without realizing that they have done so.
So, how can you protect yourself from cloned apps, and from malware damage on your mobile devices?
Protecting Your Mobile Device
The first step is to make sure that your device is properly protected with a security program or a mobile antivirus software. This security software cannot tell if the apps on your device are cloned, but they can detect if the app is a security threat, or if it is doing something that it’s not supposed to. When the security app alerts you to any possible problems with the app and you have the option of removing the app to protect your device, or of trusting the app and leaving it on your machine.
The software can also scan the app in the app store and warn you of security threats before you even install it on your device and may even block certain apps from even appearing. If you opt to keep the suspicious app, the security software can also warn you of new security threats any time the app is updated.
The next step is to avoid downloading from third-party app stores, or from untrusted sources. Many Android devices give you the option to enable third-party apps, and it can be tempting to do this if you want to side load an app that is usually not available for your device. The same goes for third-party app stores that often grant people access to apps that they can’t find through traditional stores. Unfortunately, doing this can also leave your device more vulnerable to malware because the third-party stores might not be as well monitored as the traditional stores.
Even when you do install from a trusted source, such as Google Play, you still need to check the app publisher to make sure that you are getting the real deal and not a clone. One way to make sure that you are getting the right app is to go to the app developer’s download page, which should redirect you to Google Play or the Apple Store when you click the link. For example, if you want to download your bank’s mobile app, go to the app download page for your bank and access the apps store from there. If the link takes you do something other than a trusted app store, consider not installing the app.
You should also install OS updates whenever they become available. While it is true that some Android OS updates only become available when your carrier makes them available, some carriers are getting better about pushing the updates as they come out. Also, if you have a Nexus device, the updates will come automatically. The reason you want those updates is that they often address security vulnerabilities from previous versions, which can make your device much more secure. If you do not receive notifications about Android updates, or if you can’t manually initiate an update by going into your phone information and tapping “system updates,” contact your carrier for more information on when or if they will be pushing OS updates for your device.
Periodically review the apps that are on your device and remove the ones that you don’t use. Not only will it save space and resources, it also allows you take inventory of your apps so that you know what is on your device and you don’t end up holding on to a malicious app because you don’t realize that it’s there.