Having multiple options for places to buy products and services is great for the economy. RC Cola may not be as popular as Coke or Pepsi, but it's very existence promotes competition and allows the consumer a greater variety of choice. The same is true for third-party app stores, as these often sell apps at great discounts or in areas of the world that they aren't generally offered. That said, recent findings from Trend Micro researchers point to the danger these stores pose.
ANDROIDOS_LIBSKIN.A is a piece of malware that has the ability to root android phones, and it's been discovered lurking in third-party app stores. Basically, rooting a phone gives administrator access to all of the device's functionalities. Users can utilize this technique to improve their smartphone by overclocking for increased performance, but ANDROIDOS_LIBSKIN.A has more malicious plans.
What can this malware do and where is it?
As it stands, ANDROIDOS_LIBSKIN.A seems to only be concerned with collecting user data and installing other malicious apps unbeknownst to the phone's owner. The fact that this piece of malware has root access to the user's device has far-reaching implications. Improperly rooting has been known to brick Android devices, meaning a hacker could effectively destroy a phone's usability without even meaning to do so. And that's just what a cybercriminal can do on accident.
So, considering the capabilities of ANDROIDOS_LIBSKIN.A, it isn't surprising that it's influence has crossed into 169 countries, according to Trend Micro findings. However, research from Cheetah Mobile Security has discovered that certain nations may be at a higher risk of infection than others. The report states that China, India and Indonesia were the countries with the most compromised Android devices.
The reason for this, according to the study, was that these countries are known for their use of third-party app stores to download popular apps. China, which was at the top of the list, might be able to trace its infection rate back to the banning of many popular apps and websites within the country, a move that has been aptly named the Great Firewall of China. Citizens often can't access certain apps censored by the government, forcing them to go to less-than-secure third party app stores. This is a problem that Trend Micro has been observing for years, and it doesn't look like it'll be slowing down anytime soon.
The main issue here for U.S. smartphone owners is the fact that this kind of infection may seem nonexistent. Americans don't really go through third-party app stores, and as such they might not take the risks surrounding them seriously. These people aren't familiar with malware like ANDROIDOS_LIBSKIN.A, but that doesn't mean they're immune. It's important to remember that these hackers aren't just going after Chinese or Indian users specifically. Rather, these countries just have higher rates of infection due to the way they download apps, and Americans using third-party stores are just as at risk as users from other countries.
How to mitigate the risks
When it comes to staying out of harms way online, Trend Micro recommend avoiding the source of infections altogether. In this case, this means users should do everything in their power to stay away from third-party app stores. These vendors may offer great discounts, but saving a few dollars isn't worth the risk involved.
That said, Google Play isn't perfect, as the store often doesn't sell apps from certain developers. If this is the case, we recommend that users go directly to the developers website to download the app. This circumvents the need for dangerous third-party stores, while also proving the legitimacy of the app in question. Every reputable developer has a website extolling the virtues of his or her line of products with the availability to download them right then and there, and one that doesn't should raise several red flags in the user's mind.