McAfee 2022 Consumer Mobile Threat Report

Tips & Advice

We’re excited to bring you the latest edition of the McAfee 2022 Consumer Mobile Threat Report. After all, when you know the challenges you face, it’s easier to be confident online. In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at some leading examples of techniques that cybercriminals are using to trick or defraud you via your mobile phone. These examples are some of the more sophisticated attacks, using real logos, quality graphics, and personalized messages. We hope this provides a useful resource for protecting your digital life, mobile devices, and personal information so that you can enjoy a safe life online with your family. 

Cybercriminals Take Their Scams to the Next Level

Cybercriminals are upping their game, using personal information and high-quality graphics to make their malware look like legitimate apps or official messages. Because these attacks are successful at defrauding significant numbers of mobile users out of their money and information, more criminals will jump on this approach or expand their malicious campaigns. Let’s take a look at some of the different techniques being used by scammers to fool mobile users.  

Smishing looks friendly but is just the opposite

Mobile smishing (aka phishing text messages) are attacks using personalized greetings in text messages that pretend to be from legitimate organizations to appear more credible. These messages often link to websites with authentic logos, icons, and other graphics, prompting the user to enter personal information or download an app. Users should be extra careful about text messages from unknown sources and should go directly to the organization’s website to validate requests. 

Mobile gaming scams pose as gamer help and cheating tools

Cheating tools and hacking apps are popular ways to get extra capabilities in mobile games. Criminals are exploiting this by promoting game hacking apps that include malicious code on legitimate messaging channels. If installed, the malware steals account credentials for social media and gaming accounts. Gamers should use caution when installing game hacks, especially if they request superuser permissions. 

 Crypto is popular and so are scams targeting it

Cryptocurrencies are providing new opportunities for mobile device attacks. The latest ploy is phony apps that promise to mine coins in the cloud for a monthly fee. Fake reviews and a low cost make them sound too good to be true—and they are. These apps just take the money without doing any coin mining. With no actual malicious code, these apps are hard to detect, so users should be suspicious of being promised hundreds or thousands of dollars of crypto coins for just a few dollars a month. 

Watch out for fake messaging apps

Another attack uses a variety of fake apps with slick graphics to trick users into premium subscriptions. Hundreds of these apps promise features such as mobile games or photo editing and are supported by plenty of fake five-star reviews. When installed, the apps ask for the user’s phone number and verification PIN and use them to sign up for premium text services that direct payments to the criminals. Users should read reviews looking for vague statements, repetitive wording, and a mix of five-star and one-star ratings. 

How to Protect Yourself 

While threat tactics continue to change as criminals adapt and respond to detection and enforcement techniques, there are a few steps users should take to limit their exposure and risk. 

Stay on the app stores

While some malicious apps do make it through the app store screening process, most of the attack downloads appear to be coming from social media, fake ads, and other unofficial app sources. Before downloading something to your phone, do some quick research about the source and developer. Many of these scams have been flagged by other people. 

Watch requests for settings and permissions

Many malicious apps get the access they need by asking the user to grant them permission to use unrelated privileges and settings. When installing a new app, take a few moments to read these requests and deny any that seem unnecessary, especially for superuser access and accessibility services.  

Update your software

Developers are actively working to identify and address security issues. Both operating systems and apps should be frequently updated so that they have the latest fixes and security protections. 

Be wary of too many five-star reviews

Cybercriminals often flood their Google Play apps with fake five-star reviews. Many fake or malicious apps only have a mix of five-star and one-star reviews. The five-star ones typically have vague statements and repetitive wording, giving clues that they are submitted by bots. Compare them to the one-star reviews for insight on the app’s real capabilities. 

Pay attention if your phone is acting funny

Devices that are behaving unusually may just have a basic tech issue but it can also be a sign of being hacked. Follow up when something is not quite right, check recent changes or contact tech support from the mobile device vendor or security software provider. 

Use security software

Comprehensive security software across all devices, whether they are computers, tablets, or smartphones, continues to be a strong defensive measure to protect your data and privacy from cyber threats. 

We hope this report helps you stay on the lookout for these and other mobile threats so you can safely and confidently enjoy your life online. For a deeper dive into the scams, you can view the full report here.  

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