Android apps infected with cryptocurrency miners, users at risk

Russian Kaspersky researchers uncover new cryptocurrency-related threats. Seemingly legitimate apps used to create Bitcoin on the sly

That hackers are increasingly focused on cryptocurrencies is no longer a secret to anyone. Starting with ransomware, whose ransom is paid in Bitcoin, Monero or other altcoins, cybercriminals have found digital and cryptocurrencies to be both valuable "allies" and an easy way to make money from their criminal activities.

Then came Bitcoin scams, followed by malware and cryptojackers, small programs that exploit the computing power of the processor to create cryptocurrencies without the user's knowledge. An epidemic that, quite abruptly, began to affect not only computers, but also Android smartphones of every make and model. Since mid-2017, the number of Android malware designed to steal cryptocurrencies has grown exponentially. What is more worrying, however, are the seemingly legitimate apps that, instead, exploit the computing power of cell phones to create Bitcoin or altcoin.

Beware of soccer apps and VPN apps

The latter includes the apps discovered in recent weeks by cybersecurity experts from Kaspersky, a Russian software house specializing in the development of PC and smartphone security solutions. By analyzing the behavior of some apps, Kaspersky researchers discovered that behind the appearance of normality and legitimacy, cryptojackers were hiding, capable of creating Bitcoin and altcoins without the user noticing.

Specifically, the miners are hidden inside apps to watch (or review) soccer games and behind VPN apps to protect online privacy. In the former case, the cryptojacker is activated the moment the user initiates a connection with streaming portals; in the latter when a user tries to encrypt their smartphone browsing through a VPN. The cybercriminals also used apps and tools to monitor battery charge and smartphone temperature, so as to minimize consumption and go completely undetected.

In total, according to Kaspersky researchers, the affected users could be more than 200 thousand, although mostly concentrated between Brazil and Ukraine.

How to defend against infected apps with miners

The security experts from the Russian software house also provide valuable details and tips to defend against hacker attacks of this kind. First of all, do not enable (or disable, in case it is) the option to install apps from untrusted sources: in this way you will avoid downloading unofficial and potentially much more dangerous apps on your smartphone than those found in the Google Play Store. Kaspersky's experts also recommend that you regularly update both the apps in your memory and the operating system: this will ensure that you always have the latest version of software available, so as to minimize vulnerabilities and reduce the risk of attacks. Finally, always install an Android antivirus, which will protect your device (and the data it contains) from virus infections and attempts to steal personal data.