Squid Game App or Mobile Malware in Disguise?

It’s safe to say that many Americans are obsessed with Squid Game. According to Business Insider, the Korean drama series has driven the newest engagers to a Netflix title of any Netflix series over the last three years. And while word-of-mouth buzz has played a big part in the show’s success, TV watchers aren’t the only ones taking note. Cybercriminals are also formulating ways to profit off the show’s popularity. According to the New York Post, a malicious app based on Squid Game was recently found on the Google Play Store, infecting users’ devices with malware.  

Red Light: Joker Malware in Disguise 

The app in question, called “Squid Game Wallpaper 4K HD,” was one of the 200 Squid Game-related apps on the Google Play Store. This particular app masqueraded as a place to download cool Squid Game backgrounds for Android devices. However, once a user downloaded the app, it infected their smartphone with a strain of Joker malware. Joker malware is a type of billing fraud malware that usually disguises itself as a messenger, photo editor, camera, or in this case, wallpaper apps.  

You may wonder how an app like this even ends up on a legitimate app purchasing store. In order to bypass Google Play’s app review process, Joker malware hides its malicious payload during the review process. This means that when the app is published in the Google Play Store, there’s no sign of malware. It’s only when a user installs the app that the malware downloads the malicious payload. Once the malware successfully installs itself, it secretly signs the user up for premium subscriptions, intercepts all their SMS messages, and can upload all their contacts to the malware operators.   

Green Light: Secure Your Device From Mobile Malware 

The “Squid Game Wallpaper 4K HD” app received 5,000 downloads before it was removed from the Google Play Store. It’s likely that cybercriminals will continue to use the show’s popularity to exploit its fans and make a profit, whether that be through malicious apps disguised as a place where viewers can watch the show or fraudulent websites selling Squid Game merchandise. But fear not! There are steps you can take to help ensure that you steer clear of malware:  

1. Avoid third-party app stores 

Unlike Google Play and Apple’s App Store, which have measures in place to review and vet apps to help ensure that they are safe, third-party sites may not have that process in place. In fact, some third-party sites may intentionally host malicious apps as part of a broader scam. However, cybercriminals have found ways to work around Google and Apple’s review process (such as with “Squid Game Wallpaper 4K HD”), but the chances of downloading a safe app from these stores are far greater than anywhere else. Additionally, Google and Apple are quick to remove malicious apps once discovered. 

2. Do your research before you download  

Before you download a new app, do some quick research. Check out the developer. Have they published several other apps with many downloads and good reviews? A legit app typically has several reviews, whereas malicious apps may have only a handful of fake five-star reviews. Lastly, look for typos and grammatical errors in both the app description and screenshots. They could be a sign that a hacker slapped the app together and quickly deployed it. 

3. Keep a close eye on your accounts 

Certain types of malware strains operate stealthily behind the scenes, commandeering login credentials or banking information right under a user’s nose. Check your accounts every so often and if you notice any suspicious activity, report it and change your passwords. You can also use ID monitoring tools, which will notify you of uncharacteristic changes or actions.  

4. Use a comprehensive security solution 

Just like you secure your computers and laptops, it’s important to secure the minicomputer in your pocket—your smartphone! For the strongest protection, use comprehensive security software that shields your device from malware and risky websites, links, and files. With a few key steps, you can boost your confidence in the safety of your devices and personal information and enjoy your favorite binge-worthy shows to the fullest! 

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