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Adware: Android's Newest Not-so Harmless Nemisis

Adware has long been a thorn in the side of many people when it comes to using their devices.

In a nutshell, the advertising-fueled software displays unwanted advertisements on your device, manipulating the data to change your browser, add spyware or simply overrunning your screen with disruptive messages and pop-ups using more processing power and siphoning more of your battery life.

While it is not necessarily a virus and may not be as obviously malicious as other problematic code floating on the internet, Adware can cause long-term issues for your device. The threat also may be much greater than it appears to be.

In fact, according to new research by security company Avast, Adware may very well be the most significant threat to Android and tablet users this year.

According to the research, 45% of mobile threats in the first five months of 2021 were adware. Fake apps came in second at 16%, and banking Trojans third at 10%. Other types of malware include downloaders, spyware, and lockers/mobile ransomware.

A recent example of adware spreading widely is the HiddenAds family, last reported by Avast in October.

Since then, Avast has seen two major types of adware enter criculation: the 'traditional' type, consisting of games, photo and other lifestyle applications that look appealing, to lure users into downloading them, then flooding their device with ads in and outside of the app. The other common type is called ad fraud. This adware starts malicious activities in the background once downloaded and shows out-of-context ads, ads in notifications or uses other aggressive advertising techniques.

Why this is an area of concern is because these days, most young teenagers or even children have a smart phone with internet connectivity and simply don't understand what it means to have good cyber hygiene or know how to detect potentially malicious software. Furthermore, a parents credit information may be available on certain games that their children play and could find themselves losing money from unknown sources or in the middle of a data leak.

The second most widely spread mobile threat is fake apps. These are apps that pose as something they are not, sometimes as legitimate apps, such as a trustworthy Covid-19 tracing app, or perhaps most recently Whatsapp, which only a few weeks ago was caught in the middle of a spyware debacle when an app posing as Netflix. The app would monitor and automatically respond to a person's WhatsApp messages in an attempt to further spread the malicious software. Fake apps can contain functionality to spy on the user, to expose them to ads or other malicious activity.

Banking Trojans or "Bankers" operate in a stealth manner in order to gain the trust of users downloading the app and to steal their banking data. Banking Trojans disguise themselves as genuine apps to access the banking details of unsuspecting users and trick them into giving up their bank account details by posing as a legitimate banking application and mimicking the login screen or supplying a generic login screen with the respective bank's logo.

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