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Fake Google Play apps steal Instagram credentials

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Instagram users have recently been the target of new credential-stealing apps appearing on Google Play store. ESET explains how it was done and how to protect yourself.

Instagram users have been the target of several new credential stealing apps, appearing on Google Play as tools for either managing or boosting the number of Instagram followers.

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Figure 1: The malicious apps on Google Play

Under the detection name Android/Spy.Inazigram,  13 malicious applications were discovered in the official Google Play store.  The apps were phishing for Instagram credentials and sending them to a remote server.

While they appear to have originated in Turkey, some used English localization to target Instagram users worldwide.  Altogether, the malicious apps have been installed by up to 1.5 million users. Upon ESET’s notification, all 13-apps were removed from the store.

How do they operate?

All the applications employed the same technique of harvesting Instagram credentials, and sending them to a remote server.  To lure users into downloading, the apps promised to rapidly increase the number of followers, likes and comments on one’s Instagram account.

Ironically, the compromised accounts were used to raise follower counts of other users, as is explained later in the article.

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Figure 2 – “Instagram followers” promising to boost Instagram engagement

As shown in the following screenshot from ESET’s analysis of one of these apps, “Instagram Followers”, it requires the user to log in via an Instagram lookalike screen. The credentials entered into the form are then sent to the attackers’ server in plain text.  After having entered the credentials, the user will find it impossible to log in, as explained in an “incorrect password” error screen.

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Figure 3 – Instagram login lookalike screen
Figure 4 – “Incorrect password” error preventing the user from logging in

The error screen also features a note suggesting the user visits Instagram’s official website and verifies their account in order to sign in to the third-party app.  As the victims are notified about unauthorised attempt to log in on their behalf and promoted to verify their account as soon as they open Instagram, the note aims to lower their suspicion in advance.

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Figure 5 – official Instagram notification about unauthorized login attempt

If the attackers are successful and the user doesn’t recognise the threat upon seeing their Instagram’s notification, the stolen credentials can be put to further use.

What happens to stolen credentials?

You might ask yourself: What use is there for a couple of (hundred thousand) stolen Instagram credentials.

Apart from an opportunity to use compromised accounts for spreading spam and ads, there are also various “business models” in which the most valuable assets are followers, likes and comments.

In ESET’s research, we’ve traced the servers to which the credentials are sent off and connected these to websites selling various bundles of Insatgram popularity boosters.

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Figure 6 – websites selling Instagram followers

The following scheme explains how this works:

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How to protect yourself?

If you have downloaded one of these apps, you will find one of its icons under your installed applications.  You will also have seen a notice from Instagram about someone attempting to log into your account, as shown in Fig 4.  Finally, your Instagram account might appear to have increased following and follower numbers, or you might be getting replies to comments you never posted.

In order to clean your device, uninstall the above mentioned apps found in your Application Manager or use a reliable mobile security solution to remove the threats for you.

To secure your Instagram account, change your Instagram password immediately.  In case you use the same password across multiple platforms, change these as well. As malware authors are known to access other web services using the stolen credentials, you are advised to use a different password on each of your accounts.

To prevent getting your social media accounts compromised, there are a couple of things to keep in mind when downloading third-party apps from Google Play:

Do not insert your sensitive information into untrusted login forms of third-party apps. To verify  whether an app is to be trusted, check the popularity of its developer by number of installs, ratings and, most importantly, content of reviews.

However, don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions, as many of the ratings and reviews can’t be trusted.  When in doubt, opt for high-quality apps marked as Top Developer or found in the Editor’s Choice category.

Last but not least, use a reputable mobile security solution to protect your device.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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