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What EU Companies Can Learn from Last Month's WireX Malware Attack

08 September 2017, 11:04 CET

This past year has increased awareness regarding how companies are vulnerable towards hacker attacks, as the world – and especially Europe and Ukraine in the case of the recent Petya attack – have experienced a series of sophisticated and widespread ransomware attacks.

Yet cyber-criminals can inflict damage on EU companies not only by direct hits but also by compromising consumers' trust in the emerging mobile app market in Europe. Case at hand: the recent WireX attack that infiltrated hundreds of apps on the official Google Play store.

Mobile Apps an Important Market for EU Businesses

Mobile apps are an increasingly important market in Europe, as mobile devices have already been heralded by the likes of Google as the internet access medium of the future and European consumers are keen to demonstrate that. According to a survey, in several EU countries the majority of minutes spent online are through mobile devices; for example, in the UK 61% of online time is spent on a mobile device, with the same figure climbing to 64% in Italy and 67% in Spain. And most of that time is spent on apps: 82% in the UK, 87% in Italy and 88% in Spain – surpassing even the US, at 87%. In the EU in general, 82% of the population aged 16-74 is online, 71% visit the web on a daily basis, and mobile access has seen a whopping increase from 36% on 2012 to almost 60% in 2016.

Mobile phone

Source: Pexels

Against this landscape, an ever increasing number of companies working in the field of providing goods and services are launching apps to connect with their customer base; but the newest wave of attacks abusing Android apps to infect users' devices with malware might prove devastating for the market. A few days ago, reports surfaced about a new malware botnet network dubbed "WireX" by researchers. According to thehackernews.com, research identified more than 300 malicious apps on the Google Play store that managed to infect over 120,000 smartphones using Android software. Most of the apps were blocked by Google, but the WireX botnet network has not been fully deactivated.

How can Mobile App Attacks like WireX Impact EU Companies?

The WireX was primarily designed to launch widespread DDoS attacks; according to the same source, a massive DDoS attack was detected on August 17th, mainly taking the form of HTTP GET requests, coming from over 70,000 infected smartphones in more than 100 countries. DDoS attacks can have devastating effects for companies, but a sophisticated cyber-security plan will greatly help in mitigating similar risks; in fact, a layered defence approach encompassing tools beyond conventional cyber-security solutions may be an even smarter strategy. Take load balancing for instance - not a cyber-security tool in itself, but with useful applications: a load balancer essentially distributes traffic across multiple resources, optimising application performance and reducing server load. As part of a layered defence strategy, load balancing works towards ensuring resiliency by reallocating live traffic, so that if one server gets hit by a DDoS attack (or becomes otherwise unavailable) the workload can be carried by other resources.

Cyber security

Source: Pexels

Yet in the WireX case and in similar incidents, companies are affected not only by the potential for harm that hackers acquire by building botnet networks; on a larger scale, it remains to be seen how the public will react to the news that hundreds of malicious apps managed to slip through the protection mechanisms of the official Google store, and how that in turn will influence their behaviour towards new apps. EU companies already running Android apps or considering launching one will have to monitor closely how this unfolds and might need to take extra measures to ensure client trust in their reputation and usage of their mobile apps remain high.

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