Social engineers have been using various dirty tricks to fool people for centuries. Social engineering, the art of gaining access to buildings, systems or data by exploiting human psychology, rather than by breaking in or using technical hacking techniques, is as old as crime itself and has been used in many ways for decades.
For the past several years online, social engineers have been trying to fool unsuspecting users into clicking on malicious links and giving up sensitive information by pretending to be old friends or trusted authorities on email and social networks.
And now that mobile devices have taken over our lives, social engineering is an attack method of choice to gain access to a person's smartphone or tablet.
Here are three examples of current cons being used by criminals to get inside your mobile device.
Malicious apps that look like legitimate apps
One example is the case of a popular and legitimate application Android users were purchasing that caused a virtual "steam" to appear on the screen of a smartphone. You could move your finger to scrape the virtual steam off, people love this sort of thing, although it served no real purpose.
But a malicious application that looked exactly like the virtual-steam application was created and many were conned into purchasing that one, instead of the authentic application. From a users perspective it is very hard to distinguish between an app that is legitimate with an app that turns out to be malicious.
What users ended up with was an application with unwanted things behind it. In some cases, the malicious application activated an SMS message from the victim's phone that was sent to request premium services and the user was charged. The attacker, meanwhile, would delete any return SMS messages acknowledging the charges so the victims had no idea they were being billed.
The best advice, don't install applications that come from un-trusted sources.
Malicious mobile apps that come from ads
In some cases, legitimate applications on a smartphone run bad advertisements. If the user clicked on the ad, they are taken to a web site that tricks the victim into thinking their battery is inefficient. The person is then asked to install an application to optimize the battery consumption, which is instead a malicious application.
Our advice is the same as with PC’s, be leery of any advertisement that is asking you to install an application.
Apps that claim to be for "security"
Another new mobile attack vector is a ZeuS malware variant that actually originates with an infected PC. When a user visits a banking site from an infected computer, they are prompted to download an authentication or security component onto their mobile device in order to complete the login process.
The attackers realize that users are using two-factor authentication. In many cases that second factor is implemented as a one-time password sent to the user's phone by the banking provider. Attackers were thinking: 'How can we get access to those credentials?' Their answer is: 'Attack the user's phone.'
The way this ruse works is once the PC is infected, the person logs onto their bank account and is told to download an application onto their phone in order to receive security messages, such as login credentials. But it is actually a malicious application from the same entity that is controlling the user's PC. Now they have access to not only the user's regular banking logon credentials, but also the second authentication factor sent to the victim via SMS. In many cases, people thought they simply were installing security applications, or in some cases, a security certificate.
Mobile devices, pure and simple, are hand-held computers and should be treated as such. The best way to protect yourself is to be cautious of not only the applications you install, but the links you click on in the web browser. If asked to download a file, application or security certificate, be leery and only download from trusted sources.