Bogus contact tracing apps are stealing data: Researchers

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WASHINGTON : At least a dozen bogus "contact tracing" apps designed to look like official software to track coronavirus infections have been deployed globally to spread malware and steal user data, security researchers said on Wednesday.

The researchers from California-based company Anomali said the apps, once installed, "are designed to download and install malware" on devices and "steal banking credentials and personal data".

Anomali said the apps do not appear to be distributed through official channels like the Google Play Store but rather are being spread through other apps, third-party stores and websites that encourage downloads.

"Threat actors continue to imitate official apps to take advantage of the brand recognition and perceived trust of those released by government agencies," the company said in a blog post. "The global impact of the Covid-19 pandemic makes the virus a recognisable and potentially fear-inducing name, of which actors will continue to abuse."

The revelation is the latest warning about hackers using the pandemic to take advantage of public fear to trick users.


Contact tracing apps are being developed in many countries, using smartphone technology to determine when users have come into contact with an infected individual.

A variety of technologies are being used for the apps, including some systems that have been criticised by privacy activists for collecting data which may be abused by governments.

Some surveys suggest the public is sceptical about using the apps.

Anomali found bogus apps deployed in Armenia, Brazil, India, Colombia, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Singapore, in some cases impersonating official government tracing applications.

A similar warning last month from a British-based association said fraudsters had tried to get users to download a bogus British contact tracing app. - AFP