Malicious Apps: For Play or Prey?

Josh Henry

Malicious Apps

Today’s society is adapting to excessive use of cell phones and personal data stored in them. Federal laws have been changed to protect citizens from police authorities rummaging through our cell phones without the proper documentation. Considering that criminals have much less trouble adapting than lawmakers, they are usually one step ahead and have been targeting cell phones relentlessly with malicious apps. These applications contain malware that can wreak havoc once it is downloaded.

Targeting Children

Cyber criminals are very opportunistic. They have recently targeted children by installing malware to apps in the play store. Since children are much less vigilant regarding what they are downloading, malicious actors will use decorated and highly appealing video game apps as ploy to attract children. Recently, malicious actors have placed pornographic adverts on applications designed to attract children.

Why children you ask?

There are many reasons why malicious apps target children. A criminal must create an app that peaks your interest. Criminals go to great lengths to spark interest in the malicious apps they are displaying. A child’s curiosity is much more vulnerable than that of an adult. Obscene images and pornography are more appealing to kids, given the forbidden nature of them. This is where the new availability aspect comes into play. New access to content that a child is curious about draws them in and can initiate a series of potentially catastrophic events. Children do not have the capacity to understand why it is not a good idea to download pornography from a gaming app. With parental controls set up, a curious youth can’t type in sex or pornography and get the desired result. However, pop up ads that come through an application are under less supervision.

The Exploitation

Exploiting vulnerabilities in children is nothing new. In the modern age, it becomes extremely dangerous when children have access to download content. Children download malware designed to infiltrate systems and hijack files or personal information that can be used maliciously through expectantly safe apps. For example, my six year old is always in front of his tablet, and if he were to ask about a Paw Patrol app on the google play store, I honestly doubt I would think twice. Parents just want a break. Malicious apps created to attract kids through animated content is usually the last thing on their mind.

Tailoring to the Audience

Recently cyber criminals have tailored their approach by depicting crude activities in animation. Although the animation is poor, it doesn’t throw red flags in the visual visually. To kids however, who actually look through the content, the differences are much more apparent. In a recent event labeled as “Elsagate”, animators replicate modern day cartoons. They are then shown in obscene videos performing acts that are bizarre and inappropriate. This peaks a child’s interest and before you know it, they are attached to a thread that could be potentially disastrous to your security. This threat could possibly lead them to another malicious app or downloadable content.

Working Out the Bugs

Google reported that it had removed 700,000 applications with malware in 2017 alone. That is a 70% increase from the previous year. It is a constant battle between cyber-criminals and companies such as Apple and Android. YouTube kids was among one of the most affected sites from the aforementioned Elsagate. To possibly spark some hope, the Head of Security for Google Play, Dave Kleidermacher, has announced that there is now a .00006% chance of downloading a malicious app or a copycat application.

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