Cybercriminals go to great lengths to hack personal devices to gather sensitive information about online users. To be more effective, they make significant investments in their technology. Also, cybercriminals are relying on a tactic called social engineering, where they capitalize upon fear and urgency to manipulate unsuspecting device users to hand over their passwords, banking information, or other critical credentials.

The threat of BRATA malware

One evolving mobile device threat that combines malware and social engineering tactics is called BRATA. BRATA has been recently upgraded by its malicious creators and several strains have already been downloaded thousands of times, according to a McAfee Mobile Research Team report.

Here’s how you can outsmart social engineering mind games and protect your devices and personal information from BRATA and other phishing and malware attacks.

Understanding BRATA malware

BRATA stands for Brazilian Remote Access Tool Android and is a member of an Android malware family. The malware initially targeted users in Brazilvia Google Play and is now making its way through Spain and the United States. BRATA masquerades as an app security scanner that urges users to install fake critical updates to other apps. The apps BRATA prompts the user to update depends on the device’s configured language: Chrome for English speakers, WhatsApp for Spanish speakers, and a non-existent PDF reader for Portuguese speakers.

BRATA’s invasive capabilities

Once BRATA infects a mobile device, it combines full device control capabilities with the ability to capture screen lock credentials (PIN, password, or pattern), capture keystrokes (keylogger functionality), and record the screen of the compromised device to monitor a user’s actions without their consent.

BRATA can take over certain controls on mobile phones, such as:

  • Hiding and unhiding incoming calls by setting the ring volume to zero and blacking out the screen
  • Discreetly granting permissions by clicking the “Allow” button when permission dialogs appear on the screen
  • Disabling Google Play Store, and therefore, Google Play Protect
  • Uninstalling itself

BRATA is like a nosy eavesdropper that steals keystrokes and an invisible hand that presses buttons at will on affected devices.

BRATA and social engineering attacks

BRATA’s latest update added new phishing and banking Trojan capabilities that make the malware even more dangerous. Once the malware is installed on a mobile device, it displays phishing URLs from financial institutions that trick users into divulging their sensitive financial information.

What makes BRATA’s banking impersonations especially effective is that the phishing URLs do not open into a web browser, which makes it difficult for a mobile user to pinpoint it as fraudulent. The phishing URLs instead redirect to fake banking log-in pages that look legitimate.

The choice to impersonate banks is a strategic one. Phishers often impersonate authoritative institutions, such as banks and credit card companies, because they instill fear and urgency.

Social engineering methods work because they capitalize on the fact that people want to trust others. In successful phishing attacks, people hand cybercriminals the keys instead of the cybercriminal having to steal the keys themselves.

How can you stay safe from social engineering?

Awareness is the best defense against social engineering hacks. When you’re on alert and know what to look for, you will be able to identify and avoid most attempts, and antivirus tools can catch the lures that fall through the cracks. Here are three tell-tale signs of a social engineering attack and what you should do to avoid it.

1. Conduct app research

Just because an app appears on Google Play or the App Store does not mean it is legitimate. Before downloading any app, check out the number of reviews it has and the quality of the reviews. If it only has a few reviews with vague comments, it could either be because the app is new or it is fake. Also, search the app’s developer and make sure they have a clean history.

2. Don’t trust links from people you don’t know

Never click on links if you are not sure where they redirect or who sent it. Be especially wary if the message surrounding the link is riddled with typos and grammar mistakes. Phishing attempts often convey urgency and use fear to pressure recipients to panic and respond too quickly to properly inspect the sender’s address or request. If you receive an urgent email or text request concerning your financial or personal information, take a deep breath and investigate if the claim is legitimate. This may require calling the customer service phone number of the institution.

3. Subscribe to a mobile antivirus program

Just like computers, mobile devices can be infected with viruses and malware. Protect your mobile device by subscribing to a mobile antivirus product, such as McAfee Mobile Security. McAfee Mobile Security is an app that is compatible with Android devices and iPhones, and it protects you in various ways, including safe surfing, scanning for malicious apps, and locating your device if it is lost or stolen.