About a year ago, I shared an article from Ars Technica detailing a chilling and degrading hacker activity called “ratting” wherein your computer could be hacked into covertly spying on you. This disturbing trend now appears to be spreading to Android smart phones; for a short while before it was detected and removed, a seemingly legitimate app was available on the Google Play store that was purportedly for parents to keep an eye on what their children were doing on their smart phones. Unfortunately for the 50 or so people who actually downloaded the program, the real purpose of the app was to install a remote access trojan platform on the device which would enable someone to illicitly use the phones cameras and mics to spy on the user, as well as control other aspects of the phone like sending texts, making calls and sending emails.
What this means for you:
The app was built on a software development platform that is being marketed specifically to hackers, and one of the key selling points is this kit’s ability to build apps that can “hide” from Google’s security scans that usually prevent malware from being uploaded to the Play store. Translation: you can expect more apps like the one mentioned above to appear on the Google Play store. Where before you could, with maybe 99% effectiveness, depend on Google to protect you from harmful apps, you can no longer take for granted that if an app appears on the Google Play store that it is 100% legitimate. To protect yourself as an Android user, you should:
- Make sure to have a reputable Anti-malware app installed (I like Webroot’s Security & Antivirus).
- Read carefully the access permissions each app is asking for before installing.
- Pay attention to user reviews and install count. If the app only has a small number of reviews and installs, give it a few days and check back to see the app survives internet scrutiny.
Fortunately, Google has a means to automatically reach out to any Android phone and purge apps that it has found to be harmful, but it’s much safer and less stressful to avoid being victimized in the first place.