Symantec: Mobile Devices Are Now Becoming Hostages Held for Ransom

3 minute read
Barry Levine avatar

mobile, mobile enterprise, mobile security

Mobile devices have truly grown up. Security firm Symantec has found what it believes is the first ransomeware threat that targets mobile devices. 

FakeAV malware pretends to be monitoring the security status of a device so that it can convince the user that a full version of the same malware is needed to remove the fake infections it has “detected.” If no payment is made -- or if the malware is not removed -- messages keep popping up. In other words, you are blackmailed.


FakeAV began showing up on computers several years back, and Symantec is now reporting that it is seeing FakeAV threats showing up on Android devices. One variation is called Android.Fakedefender, which denies access to files until a ransom payment is made.

Symantec said that once Android.Fakedefender has been installed, users are unlikely to be able to uninstall it, since it will prevent other apps from launching and it alters the operating system settings. In some cases, the company says, even a factory reset will not be possible, and a hard reset will be required that can sometimes involve connecting to software on an external computer.

Learning Opportunities

The key to avoiding all of the trouble, Symantec said, is avoiding getting the malware in the first place by installing a dependable security app, just as one does on a computer.

Organized Gangs

In a report published last year called Ransomware: A Growing Menace, Symantec pointed out that some ransomware had been developed and propagated by established online gangs, and that as many as 2.9 percent of compromised users ended up paying the ransom. One investigation into a smaller gang found nearly 70,000 computers had been compromised in a single month, which could have resulted in as much as US$ 400,000 in ransom. The company said a conservative estimate is that US$ 5 million dollars a year is being extorted in this fashion.

The Android mobile platform has been cited by various security firms and researchers as the major target for mobile malware. According to a report in March by security firm F-Secure, for instance, 96 percent of all mobile malware is designed for Android devices. In addition to being the leading mobile platform and thus the leading malware target, Android is open source and can be modified by any manufacturer in ways that may be less than secure. Additionally, Google has been criticized for its less-than-stringent monitoring of Android apps in its marketplace.

Photo courtesy of Richard Peterson (Shutterstock)

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