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Top malware threats hold your smartphone to ransom

31 July 2014, 08:45 Duncan Alfreds, Fin24

Cape Town - A new range of malware applications collectively known as ransomware is targeting smartphones as cyber criminals look for creative ways to extract money from people.

According to security company Fortinet, the threat of ransomware should oblige smartphone owners to take extra precautions when downloading applications.

"Ransomware threats have been big on mobile phones this year, from the emergence of the first variant targeting iOS devices to the first Android variant that encrypts phone data", said Ruchna Nigam, a security researcher at FortiGuard Labs, a division of Fortinet.

Fake copies of popular apps can open the door of your smartphone to malware applications. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

This malicious software is able to lock down smartphones and criminals usually demand payment on the promise that the devices will be unlocked.

However, most security experts do not advise paying up, as there is no guarantee that the device will be unlocked, or, even if the smartphone is unlocked, whether the crooks can simply send multiple locking instructions.


Cyber criminals often use major events or news stories to scam people into downloading a malicious application.

For example the Soccer World Cup in Brazil saw a number of malware applications being hawked on the internet. Where Google and others blocked apps on online platforms, hackers used social engineering tricks to get smartphones owners to install malware.

Security company Kaspersky Lab recently unveiled an Android malware called Svpeng that has turned its attention to English speakers.

Once activated, the malware is able to lock people out of their mobile devices and demand payment through accounts that are difficult to trace.

"It is impossible to repel an attack of American Svpeng if a mobile device doesn't have a security solution, the malware will block the device completely, not separate files as Cryptolocker did. If it happens to you, you can do almost nothing", said Roman Unuchek, senior malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

Here are the top malware applications currently prowling for mobile devices, according to Fortinet:

Simplocker, discovered in June 2014

- It hides in other applications and targets Android devices by encrypting common user files (with extensions jpeg, jpg, png, bmp, gif, pdf, doc, docx, txt, avi, mkv, 3gp and mp4). It demands payment via a lock screen and even after the application is deleted, the files are still unreadable.

Cryptolocker for mobile, discovered in May 2014

- Disguises itself as a video downloader and doesn't do any damage to the device. However, is launches a nag screen every five seconds that purports to be a message from the local police, making use of the smart device near impossible.

iCloud 'Oleg Pliss', discovered in May 2014

- Targets iCloud accounts and could potentially allow hackers to delete all information on an iPhone. However, if you have a password on your iPhone, you can block the attack.

FakeDefend, discovered in July 2013

- This fake antivirus runs a scan of the mobile device and 'discovers' multiple infected files. It presses the user to buy the full version and sends the credit card details to the cyber criminals. These details can be later recycled for further financial crimes.

Nigam said that cyber criminals will follow technology. As people migrate from the PC to smartphones (particularly Android) hackers have adapted strategies to target them.

"As mobile device adoption continues to gain pace, hackers have found a new lucrative target in handsets, in addition to traditional PCs."

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