Emerging Threats

This Valentine’s Day, beware of fake apps as cybercriminals look to cash in on love.

Over the past several years, some of the leading online dating websites and their related apps have reported increases in user activity near Valentine’s Day. Online daters also tend to increase their downloads of Valentine’s Day-centric apps, which can come in the form of themed wallpapers, horoscope compatibility, greeting cards for significant others, and love-related games.

While these types of apps may seem like a fun novelty for the time being, just keep in mind what you download may not be legit. Cybercriminals are looking for their chance to take advantage of users both looking for love, and those who are using mobile apps to celebrate Valentine’s Day, by obtaining access to their financial or personal information.

The FBI reported, in February 2018, that romance scams result in the highest amount of financial losses to victims when compared to other online crimes.

As a result, this Valentine’s Day there are some things you should watch for:

Apps that send premium SMS texts

Some applications will masquerade as special Valentine’s Day-themed apps and may try to send their own text messages in the background to a unique phone number that is for premium texts. These premium texts charge the user, so the attackers earn money from this activity without the user’s knowledge.

Trojanized apps

Cybercriminals can make copies of existing, legitimate apps, load them with malware, and make them available through unofficial or pirate app markets where unsuspecting users may download them, unwittingly exposing their devices to malware and viruses. Once a victim’s device is infected, the trojanized app can give a cybercriminal access to the victim’s information, or even allow them to send premium SMS texts from the victim’s device and generate unlawful revenue.

Information theft

Malicious apps can also attempt to access personal information stored on your smart phone or devices, including sensitive financial credentials or passwords that could be used to steal your identity or funds from your accounts. Some of these bad apps could allow a cybercriminal to access your text message data, sensitive emails, photos, and contact information.

Grayware and leaky apps

While some apps may not set out to harm their users, they may unintentionally cause damage because of their insecure data practices. A significant number of popular apps don’t encrypt sensitive user information and could inadvertently expose users’ personal information, such as phone numbers, contacts, or the user’s location. Before downloading a new app, be sure to read the privacy policy to see how your information may be collected, stored, and shared with third parties. One of the ways that free applications earn revenue is through advertising.

The developers of perfectly legitimate apps may add third-party ad libraries to their applications to generate revenue. Such ad libraries may not be examined thoroughly by the app store and may display advertisements at a high rate. While this isn’t dangerous or illegal, it can be annoying while trying to do things on your phone. Further, ad libraries typically gather user information to make ads more relevant to individual users, which causes concern for consumer privacy.

Practice safe text

We still want you to have fun on Valentine’s Day, despite these sneaky apps. If you’re looking for the right mobile app to send a greeting card or find a date, we recommend the following best practices:

  • Download apps from trusted sources. Only download apps from the official app store based on your operating system. Apps tend to be more thoroughly verified by Google Play and Apple’s App Store, whereas apps on third-party sites can be made by anyone and subject to little or no vetting or security requirements. In addition to reading the privacy policy, be sure to check the reviews, comments, and how many people have downloaded the app.
  • Watch for strange device behavior. Malicious software can often give away their presence by making your device behave in strange ways. Be on the lookout for warning signs, such as slow Internet connections, unexplained charges on your phone bill, unusually high data usage, and a quickly draining battery. By keeping an eye out for behaviors that are out of the ordinary, you may be able to catch a problem before it gets too bad.
  • Keep your software up to date. Software updates perform myriad tasks. These updates will deliver a multitude of revisions to your device, such as adding new features, removing outdated features, and, most importantly, fixing security holes and vulnerabilities that have been discovered by the app developer. You can adjust your device settings to apply updates automatically, as well..
  • Use Norton Mobile Security. Norton Mobile Security goes beyond just finding and reporting malicious activities on a user’s device. Its App Advisor for Android scans an app for issues before it is downloaded and installed. This helps you make safe decisions by keeping you informed while you look for the right app.

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Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. Norton LifeLock offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about cyber safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.

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