Security Experts:

FBI Expects Increased Targeting of Mobile Banking Applications

The increase in mobile banking application usage is expected to lead to a rise in exploitation too, the Federal Bureau of Investigation warns.

Over the past several years, mobile banking applications have seen wide adoption, and their use went up by 50% since the beginning of this year, an alert from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) reveals.

Thus, the FBI advises caution when downloading these types of applications to mobile devices, as they might hide malicious intent.

Given the current coronavirus pandemic, individuals have become more willing to use mobile banking, and the FBI believes that cyber actors will attempt to target new mobile banking customers with app-based banking Trojans, fake banking apps, and more.

Banking Trojans, the IC3 alert notes, are usually disguised as other apps and remain dormant on devices until the user launches a legitimate banking application. The Trojan may overlay a false version of the bank’s login page and trick the user into revealing their login credentials, which are then sent to human operators that leverage them to compromise accounts.

In some cases, cyber-criminals create fake apps that impersonate legitimate financial software, also in an attempt to deceive users into entering their credentials. Such apps usually display an error message after the attempted login and can steal security codes received by users by leveraging smartphone permission requests.

“US security research organizations report that in 2018, nearly 65,000 fake apps were detected on major app stores, making this one of the fastest growing sectors of smartphone-based fraud,” the FBI says.

To stay protected, users should download applications from trusted sources only, such as official app stores and bank websites, the FBI says. For smartphones used within private sector companies, applications are usually vetted through internal management systems.

Using two- or multi-factor authentication represents another means of staying protected from exploitation, as it is highly effective in securing accounts against compromise, the FBI notes. Modern MFA solutions (biometrics, hardware tokens, or authentication apps) are more secure compared to email or SMS-based methods.

The FBI also recommends the use of multiple types of authentication for accounts when possible, keeping an eye on where personally identifiable information (PII) is stored and only sharing the most necessary information with financial institutions, and avoiding clicking on links in emails or text messages, or sharing two-factor codes over phone.

“Cyber actors regularly exploit users who reuse passwords or use common or insecure passwords. The FBI recommends creating strong, unique passwords to mitigate these attacks. The National Institute of Standards and Technology's most recent guidance encourages users to make passwords or passphrases that are 15 characters or longer,” the alert also reads.

Users who encounter an app that looks suspicious are encouraged to contact the financial institution to report it. If a phone call claiming to be from the bank seems suspicious, users should hang up and call the bank at the customer service number on their website.

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