The Rise Of Adware And How We Are Used For Bogus Profit

There’s always always a chronic conversation on how safe we are on the internet. Tech journalists and websites are in all force to discuss new technology and how it could potentially impact our cybersecurity. Every day, we hear of news regarding the recent data breaches and new hacking techniques.

However, as ordinary people, we don’t necessarily become a threat to high-level and sophisticated hacking techniques. We are not targets of organized hacking groups and evil threat actors that aim to put down our system — we don’t necessarily have a method to put down, we only have our computers and our smartphones (among other things in the Internet of Things).

What we do encounter daily are adwares. Adwares aren’t necessarily dangerous, but they are a threat. Adware is a software that sneakily sneaks into your computers, smartphones, apps, browsers, among other things intending to generate fraudulent and illegal income. They don’t necessarily steal your money; they only use your device as a decoy for a more sinister income-generating project.

Adwares use us to trick advertisers

How exactly do they use our devices as a tool to amass money?

Well, through advertising. They work similarly like pop-ads; but instead of using a series of webs scripts, they embed codes and live inside your system so that they can send any advertisement on your way any time they want.

Advertisers are counting impressions or the number of times a unique viewer is loading up their ads, and scammers are on their way to exploit your system to make sure that ads are sent to your device. They realized that the more impressions they can generate, the more money they can pocket. So, technically, Adwares are targeting us and tricking advertisers all at the same time.

“You’re starting to see actors realizing that just regular adware won’t do these days,” Check Point’s Hazum says. “If you want the big money you need to invest in infrastructure and research and development.”

Your smartphone and computers are conducive environments for advertising malware to thrive. They are usually distributed through apps and software downloaded from third-party app stores and download sites. Sometimes, attackers even manage to sneak in Adware tainted apps in legitimate distribution channels like Google Play Store and Android App Store. These apps and software generate millions of downloads, without the people knowing that malware is running malicious ads in the background or even right in front of the screen.

Well, they don’t necessarily aim to steal your money. They are only there to either annoy you or to use you as a tool to earn more money. At worse, Adwares will only make your device work slower and sometimes force-closes several applications that you use.

“With adware—which is, in my opinion, one of the boldest types of malware on the mobile front—we can see that the actors are basically following the money,” says Aviran Hazum, analysis and response team leader at security firm Check Point. “A lot of victims will pay a ransomware ransom, or attackers can gain access to a bank account, but the probability of that is relatively low compared to the amount of money they can generate by displaying ads. More audience, more adware, more revenue.”

The Agent Smith Adware

Last week, Z6Mag reported about the malware “Agent Smith,” which was first discovered in 2016 but now has grown to be more sophisticated. “Agent Smith” is an adware; and as the security researchers from Check Point who first discovered its evolution said, “disguised as a Google-related application, and exploits known Android vulnerabilities and automatically replaces installed apps with malicious versions without users’ knowledge or interaction.”

While researchers from Check Point said that they had found no evidence that Agent Smith is collecting unauthorized data from an infected device, they also said that the persistence of such Adware in the smartphone has terrible implications.

Furthermore, the researchers said that the Adware is really difficult to detect, especially if the smartphone user doesn’t have enough tech skills as the malware doesn’t have a direct download. Instead, it creeps through other apps like WhatsApp and Opera Mini.

“The “Agent Smith” campaign serves as a sharp reminder that effort from system developers alone is not enough to build a secure Android eco-system. It requires attention and action from system developers, device manufacturers, app developers, and users, so that vulnerability fixes are patched, distributed, adopted and installed in time,” the researchers concluded.

About the Author

Al Restar
A consumer tech and cybersecurity journalist who does content marketing while daydreaming about having unlimited coffee for life and getting a pet llama. I also own a cybersecurity blog called Zero Day.

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