• Mobile Fraud and Malware
  • 3 Min Read
  • June 24, 2020

Rising COVID scams and malware protection

By Kostas Kastanis, Deputy CEO

In just a matter of months, the world has shifted itself indoors. In so doing, we have grown reliant on digital means for work and leisure. For mobile operators, it has been a busy time ramping up and responding to user demand in order to maintain high levels of connectivity and support customers. In many cases this has meant focusing on increasing bandwidth, maintaining speeds and scaling the mobile commerce infrastructure to keep up with customer demand. As well as keeping mobile operators on their toes, the shift in digital has also unfortunately attracted interest from cybercriminals. Increased remote working, combined with a surge in online entertainment has left customers more vulnerable to internet fraud in its many guises. As mobile operators continue to play their part in powering the world economy in the face of the global pandemic, there are a number of ways they can ensure they help customers stay secure, connected, and informed.

Beware malware

Entertainment, socialising, fitness, music, films…the many ways we used to enjoy ourselves pre-lockdown have moved online. Gaming platforms are busier than ever, and many people are trying out new apps like puzzles and quizzes, comedy videos, and other kinds of time-passing light entertainment. Correspondingly we have observed an uptick in malicious ‘leisure’ apps, which trick users into subscribing for premium services while appearing to offer free entertainment. Fraudsters lure people by creating apps that tap into the latest trends and crazes. The lockdown effect comes to accentuate an already upward trend in online fraud. According to data for the first quarter of the year our carrier-grade security platform, Secure-D, detected more than 29,000 malicious apps, double compared to the same period in 2019. The first quarter also saw a dramatic 55% spike in the number of fraudulent mobile transactions and an increase in the number of malware infected devices. There is a real opportunity for mobile operators to help keep customers safe, by securing their transactions, and also keep them informed by providing them with up-to-date data on the latest threats. For example, they can help customers avoid apps known to be malicious, like Atlas Box, Puzzle Addict, and Video Lounge, and the many apps whose APK names include com.xam.

Keeping personal data safe

COVID-19 is driving the spread of new scams such as phishing and copycatting which encourage mobile users to click on bad attachments or links to fraudulent sites. These scams often appear to offer privileged information on coronavirus, often from what look to be legitimate sources, e.g. the World Health Organization. They often target work email addresses and have subject lines that sound legitimate.  Mobile operators can help users be more scam-aware, for instance, exercising greater vigilance when it comes to clicking links, handing over personal details and checking email addresses.

Stopping fake information in its tracks – On connectivity 

Fraudsters prey on people’s natural desire for information about the pandemic. One way mobile operators can help stop the spread of scams is to offer their own portal for vital news services. Operators in some developing markets are experimenting with innovative ways of making COVID-19 information available for free to customers (as well as other public service information relating to education, health and government). Many such initiatives, at the same time, provide a sustainable solution to the cause for increased connectivity in areas where networks are scarce or not as advanced or communities cannot afford mobile data. A prime example is Vodacom’s solution in South Africa, ConnectU, a zero-rated online platform driving digital inclusion in the country. In short, this platform is consolidating all existing zero-rated data services with new essential services aimed at social upliftment into a single platform providing Vodacom customers with free access to job portals, educational content, health info, government data, news and many other resources. To put all in perspective and why this is important; For much of the developing world and for lack of other infrastructure, the mobile phone represents the only means of connecting to the Internet. While topping up is not to be taken for granted. In South Africa for instance, on an average wage, one needs to work for two days to afford 1GB of data.

Help remote workers

With the added pressure that mobile operators are facing delivering 10-100 times the ‘usual’ bandwidth delivered before COVID-19, they are now working overtime to ensure that networks are up and reliable. MNOs should be, and in most cases are, doing all they can to find ways of supporting business customers.

Even as the most stringent lockdowns begin to ease across the world, going back to a pre-lockdown way of life seems unlikely. As businesses and individuals seek to strike a balance that keeps workers safe while enabling increased freedom, it is likely that the most successful aspects of digital working will outlast the pandemic. It’s up to mobile operators to help create a positive user experience in these testing times, grasp this opportunity to help their customers stay connected, productive and safe online.

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