Online scams and malware attacks are on the rise but the condition could be more severe than previously thought. As per a report released by mobile technology company Upstream, 93 per cent of total mobile transactions in 20 countries were blocked as fraudulent in 2019.

Upstream covered 31 mobile operators in 20 countries to prepare its report on the state of malware and mobile ad fraud. Its "Invisible Digital Threat" data is based on its Secure-D full-stack anti-fraud platform— which it claims to detect and block fraudulent mobile transactions originated from ad fraud malware.

1.6 billion fraudulent transactions blocked in 2019

Upstream claims that its security platform processed 1.71 billion mobile transactions in the 20 countries and blocked 1.6 billion of them as fraudulent— a staggering 93 per cent of total transactions.

RAMpage vulnerability attacks android devices
Android users are at great riskCreative Commons

"It is estimated that left unchecked these transactions would have cost users $2.1 billion in unwanted charges," Upstream says.

According to the company, losses from online, mobile, and in-app advertising reached $42 billion in 2019 for the industry as a whole and are expected to reach $100 billion by 2023.

Android devices are more vulnerable

As per the report, the number of malicious apps discovered by Secure-D in 2019 rose to 98,000, up from 63,000 in 2018, the report says.

Android devices now account for an estimated 75 to 85 per cent of all smartphone sales worldwide. As per Upstream, it is the most dominant operating system but also the most vulnerable one because of its open nature, which makes it a favourite playground for fraudsters.

Malware affected Android phones
Android users should be carefulCreative Commons

The report says that Google Play should be the only source of app installation for the Android users but it is also not entirely safe. "Of the top 100 most active malicious apps that were blocked in 2019, 32 per cent are reported to still be available on Google Play," Upstream says.

Which app category is the most infected?

According to the Upstream report, apps designed to make a device function better and make everyday life easier are the ones most likely to be harmful with 22.32 per cent of malicious apps for 2019 falling under the Tools/ Personalization/ Productivity category globally.

The next most popular categories cybercriminals target are Games (18.97 percent) followed by Entertainment/Shopping (15.76 percent).

Apps with suspicious behaviour

Upstream's Secure-D reported on the suspicious background activity of five very popular Android apps that include 4shared (a popular file-sharing app), Vidmate (a video downloader), Weather Forecast (a preinstalled app on Alcatel devices), Snaptube (video and audio app), and ai.type (an on-screen keyboard app).

The effects of mobile ad fraud are particularly damaging in emerging markets where data costs are significantly higher and users are unaware of the dangers as they often go online for the first time via their mobile devices. As per the report, the fraud rates in most cases exceed the 90 per cent mark in these countries that include Brazil and South Africa.