Some Apps Come Loaded With Malware

The British government conducted a review into the app store ecosystem from December 2020 to March 2022 which found that malicious and poorly developed apps continue to be accessible to users - clear evidence that some developers are not following best practice when creating apps. 

Now, a new UK Report by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has warned of the threats posed by malicious apps and is asking the IT sector to address the security problems in app stores used by millions of customers.

“Over the last decade there has been an enormous increase in the availability and use of smartphones and smart devices... Many of these devices feature application stores 'app stores', which allow users to download additional applications and content. The vast majority of users, particularly on mobile platforms, download apps via these app stores,” says the NCSC  Report.

All app stores share a common threat profile with malware contained within apps the most prevalent risk. Additionally, prominent app store operators are not adequately signposting app requirements to developers and providing detailed feedback if an app or update is rejected.

While most people will be familiar with apps downloaded on to smartphones, devices from smart TVs to smart speakers now also have them. The UK Government is discussing new guidelines on security and privacy for apps and app stores. 

  • The British government survey found that Android phone users downloaded apps which contained the Triada and Escobar malware from various third-party app stores. "This resulted in cyber-criminals remotely taking control of people's phones and stealing their data and money by signing them up for premium subscription services," it said. 
  • The NCSC's report noted that apps "can also be installed on laptops, computers, games consoles, wearable devices (such as smartwatches or fitness trackers), smart TVs, smart speakers (such as Alexa devices), and IoT (Internet of Things) devices".

The NCSC report an example of a security company demonstrating how it can build a threatening app for a popular tracker from a fitness firm, that could be downloaded from a link using the company's web address to seem legitimate. The app contained "spyware/stalkerware capable of stealing everything from location and personal body data".

The NCSC report noted that the appetite for apps had grown during the pandemic, with the UK app market  worth £18.6bn ($23.2bn).

The NCSC reinforces the government proposals to ask app stores to commit to a new code of practice setting out minimum security and privacy requirements. "Developers and store operators making apps available to UK users would be covered. This includes Apple, Google, Amazon, Huawei, Microsoft and Samsung," the government said. 

A proposed code of practice would require stores to set up processes so that security flaws can be found and fixed more quickly. App stores for smartphones, games consoles, TVs and other smart devices could be required comply with a new code of practice setting out baseline security and privacy requirements. 

They would need to share more security and privacy information in an accessible way, including why an app needs access to a user’s contacts and location. 

NCSC:      Gov.UK:         BBC:       Silicon:      Computer Weekly:   

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