Smartphone scams: Owners warned over malware apps

  • 7 November 2011
  • From the section UK
Media captionRik Ferguson, an "ethical hacker" and expert on smartphone security, demonstrates how easy it is for criminals to create trojan apps

A national computer security campaign is urging smartphone users to do more to protect themselves from unwittingly downloading malware applications.

Get Safe Online says that there has been an increase in smartphone malware as the market has grown.

Criminals are typically creating Trojan copies of reputable apps and tricking users into installing them.

Once on the phone, the app can secretly generate cash for criminals through premium rate text messages.

Get Safe Online, a joint initiative between the government, police and industry, said it was concerned that users of smartphones, such as Android devices, were not taking steps to protect their devices.

Get Safe Online said fraudsters are designing apps which generate cash secretly in the background without the owner realising until their monthly bill.

A typical scam involves an app designed to send texts to premium rate services without the user knowing.

Apps can appear to be bona fide software or sometimes masquerade as stripped down free versions of well-known games.

Rik Ferguson, a hacking researcher with internet security firm Trend Micro, said: "This type of malware is capable of sending a steady stream of text messages to premium rate numbers - in some instances we've seen one being sent every minute.

"With costs of up to £6 per message, this can be extremely lucrative. The user won't know this is taking place, even if they happen to be using the device at the same time, as the activity takes place within the device's back-end infrastructure."

Online banking

Another major security firm, Symantec, recently warned in its annual threat assessment that Android phones were at risk and that it had found at least six varieties of malicious software.

Minister for Cyber Security Francis Maude said: "More and more people are using their smartphone to transmit personal and financial information over the internet, whether it's for online banking, shopping or social networking.

"Research from Get Safe Online shows that 17% of smartphone users now use their phone for money matters and this doesn't escape the notice of criminals."

Tony Neate, head of Get Safe Online, urged people to check their phone's security.

"Mobile phones are very personal. I have talked to people who are never more than a yard away from their mobile phone. Because of that attachment, they start to think that they are in a way invincible.

"It's the end user that picks up the tab - it's your phone that incurs the costs. Whether you have pay-as-you-go or a monthly account, that money is going to come from the account and go to the criminal."