Grandma malware warning: smartphone app downloads of death

If you're reading this article, chances are you're the person in your family that does all the tech support. Today we've got a bit of a warning for you from the likes of a developer by the name of Rudis Muiznieks. This fellow bared his soul this week in an article all about how he used to work for a company that spammed desktop and mobile computer users with apps and data-harvesting software. It occurred to us that some readers might never have heard of one of this phantom company's methods, and should therefor be informed and warned.

This article stars with a title "Grandma malware" because it involves the sort of malware trickery your grandmother would be most prone to fall for. While it'll be difficult to track down if your grandmother (or whoever else you're checking for) already fell for the trick, it'll be good to know the symptoms of this digital sickness.

The exploit here requires several components. First, your grandmother will have downloaded some software that installed itself without your grandmother's knowledge. This software is invisible. All this software does is to watch your web browser for certain types of activity.

Once your grandmother logs in to an app store, the evil begins.

App stores for mobile devices these days are able to send software to your smartphone or tablet remotely. As long as both your smartphone and your web browser are logged in to the app store with the same account, you're able to send apps to the smaller device.

The invisible software on your grandmother's computer watches for the sequence it needs to be able to send software of its own to your device, and bang! It's in.

It's difficult for a company to do this sort of thing, especially since app stores are extremely quick to catch the apps that they install, finding them to be more malware in most cases. In fact Muiznieks isn't even sure that the company he used to work for is using the same exploit anymore because of the speed at which app store admins shut their company down time after time.

Muiznieks suggested that the company he'd worked for in the past had already been using this exploit with the Google Play app store for Android devices and were looking into retrofitting a similar sequence for the Apple app store for iPhones and iPads. Whether or not they succeeded – we do not know.

But there's still a possibility your grandma could be in trouble here. Especially if she's not the sort of person who updates her web browser or mobile device software all that often.

So pick up your grandma's smartphone and have a peek at the apps she has installed. If there's a lot of nonsense in there – stuff she doesn't remember installing – you might want to check her PC as well.