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The Critical Need to Defend Against Unauthorized Apps

Large pile of colourful app icons in 3D rendering

Safeguarding Security and Integrity: In today's digital landscape, mobile applications have become integral to our daily lives, offering convenience, entertainment, and essential services. However, with the rise of mobile app usage, there's also been a surge in unauthorized and malicious apps (aka Dummy Apps, Cloned Apps, Tampered Apps) that pose significant threats to users, organizations, and developers alike. In this blog post, we'll explore why it's imperative for developers to prevent the running of non-authorized apps from accessing your API’s and how cutting-edge solutions like Approov Mobile Security can help safeguard security and integrity.

The Growing Threat of Unauthorized Apps

Fraudsters and cybercriminals have become increasingly adept at creating fake apps by cloning or tampering with popular applications. These malicious actors then repackage, re-sign, and distribute these counterfeit apps on alternative, unregulated app stores. The process is shockingly simple: they download a target app onto a jailbroken mobile device, make modifications, and voilà – a fake, malicious, or pirated app is born.

The Consequences of Allowing Unauthorized Apps

Allowing unauthorized apps to run can have dire consequences for developers, users, and organizations:

  • Data Breaches and Privacy Violations: Unauthorized apps may access sensitive user data, leading to data breaches and privacy violations.
  • Fraud and Identity Theft: These apps can be used for fraudulent activities, including identity theft and financial fraud.
  • Damage to App Integrity: Cloned or tampered apps can harm the reputation of the original app and its developers.
  • Brand Reputation at Risk: Security breaches caused by unauthorized apps can tarnish an organization's brand reputation.
  • Security and Compliance Issues: In regulated industries, allowing unauthorized apps can result in compliance violations and legal repercussions.
  • Revenue Loss: Unauthorized apps can lead to revenue loss through ad fraud, unauthorized access, or counterfeit product distribution.

As our reliance on mobile apps grows, so does the presence of fake apps - imitations designed to mimic legitimate applications while carrying out malicious activities. In this article, we will delve into the world of fake apps, where they come from, how to spot them, and, most importantly, how to protect yourself.

Where Do Fake Apps Appear?

Fake apps can infiltrate your device through various channels, and often, they appear where you least expect them. Here's how they manage to sneak into your world:

  1. Official App Stores: Contrary to what you might think, fake apps frequently make their way into official app stores. This occurs when cybercriminals pose as developers, take a legitimate app's code, inject malicious elements, and repackage it. The altered version is then uploaded to app stores.
  2. Phishing Scams: In phishing attacks, attackers impersonate trusted services via email or SMS, tricking users into downloading an app that may steal personal information or deliver malware to their devices.

How Can Users Spot Fake Apps?

Identifying fake apps is crucial for protecting your device and personal information. Here are some tips to help you spot them:

  1. Check the Download Count: Legitimate apps often have thousands or millions of downloads. If you come across a popular app with an unusually low download count, it's a red flag.
  2. Examine the App Icon: Fake apps tend to use icons that closely resemble the real ones to capitalize on brand familiarity.
  3. Review the Release Date: Most established apps have been on the market for a while. If you find a well-known app recently released, it's likely a fake.
  4. Read Reviews: Genuine apps usually have a mix of positive and negative reviews. Watch out for overly positive, fake reviews.
  5. Research the Developer: Some fake apps use developer names that resemble legitimate ones. Research the developer's name to verify authenticity.
  6. Watch for Typos and Grammar Mistakes: Fake apps often contain typos or grammatical errors in their names or descriptions.
  7. Review App Permissions: Be cautious of apps requesting unrelated or excessive permissions.

Types of Fake Apps

Fake apps come in two primary forms:

  1. Counterfeit Apps: These apps closely mimic legitimate ones in appearance and functionality. They aim to deceive users into thinking they're downloading the genuine app.
  2. Repackaged Apps: Attackers modify the source code of a legitimate app, adding malicious elements, and then release it on app stores. Users may unwittingly download these tampered versions.

Why Are Fake Apps Dangerous?

Fake apps are designed to harm users and their devices in various ways:

  1. Stealing Personal Information: Once granted permission, fake apps can access sensitive personal data.
  2. Infecting Devices with Malware: Fake apps can introduce various types of malware, such as adware, spyware, or ransomware.
  3. Launching Different Threats: Fake apps can expose users to ad bots, billing fraud, botnets, hostile content, spam, spyware, phishing, ransomware, rooting, and other forms of attacks.

How Can Users Protect Themselves from Fake Apps?

Safeguarding your device against fake apps requires vigilance:

  1. Don't Rely Solely on Ratings: Fake apps can manipulate ratings. Read both favorable and unfavorable reviews for a more accurate picture.
  2. Verify App Details: Carefully compare app details against information on the developer's official website.
  3. Trust Reputable Developers: Stick to apps from well-known developers or research lesser-known apps before downloading.
  4. Beware of Useless Apps and High Fees: Be cautious of apps offering little functionality but charging exorbitant fees.
  5. Avoid Suspicious Pop-Ups: Refrain from clicking on links in unsolicited emails or messages.
  6. Install Antivirus Apps: Antivirus apps help identify and remove harmful apps from your device.

By staying vigilant, you can protect yourself from the hidden dangers of fake apps and enjoy the benefits of mobile technology without falling victim to cyber threats.

What Developers Must Do to Protect Against Fake Apps

Developers have a critical role to play in protecting their mobile apps from abuse.

Because mobile app code by its nature is exposed to hackers, developers must apply approaches to ensure that secrets such as API keys are not exposed in code. This prevents hackers from stealing the secrets the app uses to communicate with backend services and stops them imitating the app.  

In addition developers must ensure that a mobile Runtime Application Self Protection (RASP) solution  is in place.  Such solutions can provide visibility at runtime and prevent apps from being cloned or copied, as well as prevent the environments they run in from being  hacked, rooted, instrumented or manipulated. 

Enhancing Security with Approov Mobile Security

To counter these threats, developers need powerful security solutions like Approov Mobile Security. This state-of-the-art tool is designed to identify and block unauthorized or tampered apps in real-time. Here's how it helps:

  • Remote App Attestation: Ensures only genuine, unaltered apps can access your backend services, blocking bots and tampered apps without false positives.
  • Device Attestation: Detects unsafe client device environments, like rooted or jailbroken devices, protecting against malicious frameworks.
  • Dynamic Certificate Pinning: Stops Man-in-the-Middle attacks by locking connections to a fixed set of backend certificates, updated seamlessly.
  • API Security: Guarantees authenticity to your backend APIs and services, preventing API abuse, credential stuffing, scraping and DDoS attacks.
  • Runtime Secrets Protection: Eliminates hardcoded or stolen API keys by delivering secrets "just-in-time" when needed, based on app and environment attestation.
  • Easy Deployment: Approov integrates easily, and over-the-air updates ensure security without service disruptions.

With Approov Mobile Security, developers can maintain the security, integrity, and reputation of their apps while offering users a safer and more enjoyable experience. In a world where mobile app security is paramount, Approov stands as a vital safeguard against the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats.

Don't let unauthorized apps compromise your app's security and your users' trust. Choose Approov Mobile Security and stay one step ahead of cybercriminals. Your app and your users deserve nothing less. Interested in seeing how Approov works? Book a demo here.


Pearce Erensel

- Global VP of Sales, Approov
Pearce’s cybersecurity experience stems from 7 years of securing mobile apps in highly regulated industries like banking, automotive, and medical device manufacturing. His client-focused approach has helped companies successfully tackle significant challenges in mobile app and API security. Pearce lauds Approov's innovative, seamless, and adaptable approach, recognizing its potential to revolutionize mobile app security.