Threat Research

Apklab.io releases COVID-19 Threat Intelligence telemetry for the public

Nikolaos Chrysaidos, 18 March 2020

Wondering if that coronavirus app is legitimate? Submit it to apklab.io and find out.

Everyone’s got the coronavirus on their minds, including cybercriminals. And I’ve been in this industry long enough to know that, sadly, in the world of online scams, nothing is sacred. Even something as deadly serious as a pandemic will be exploited if someone can make money off of it. And with hundreds of apps dedicated to COVID-19 information having materialized over the last week, with more to come, it’s going to be increasingly difficult for the average user to tell good from bad, legitimate from malicious, truth from flat-out lies. 

So today I have news: Avast is launching a new initiative on its mobile threat intelligence platform apklab.io to make it easier for researchers both to contribute and examine COVID-related app samples. So far, we’ve found over 450 coronavirus related apps. While we are analyzing them to discern the genuine from the fraudulent, we invite the research community to take part as well. We’ve customized our feeds to make the indicators of compromise (IoCs) accessible to the public so that other security researchers can join us in the investigations. Researchers can request an invitation here in order to explore our deep analysis of the apps. We may not be able to stop the spread of COVID-19; but, working together as a community, we can help stop the spread of bad apps preying on the crisis. We are also inviting other companies to follow the lead.

Researchers are welcome to analyze the samples we’ve collected to date, which have been separated into coronavirus apps and coronavirus URLs.

Even if you’re not a researcher with the ability to analyze code, I strongly recommend that you still protect yourself from the digital world’s mass influx of bad coronavirus apps by following these 3 tips:

  1. Use websites instead of apps. Visiting a website is usually much safer than installing an app on your device. In fact, most of the information the apps claim to use come from websites, so just go to them directly, such as the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. Only install apps from official stores. The vast majority of malware is spread through unofficial third-party app stores, so make sure you’re using the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store to get your apps. 
  3. Get a second opinion on the app. Before you install a new app, take a look at how many downloads it has so far and check out the reviews. This will give you a good temperature reading on whether it’s useful or a waste of time. 

The misinformation and disinformation being spread about COVID-19 ranges from fake outbreak maps to phony cures for the disease and more. Avoid all that confusion by listening only to the experts. As a society, we are practicing social distancing to prevent the escalation of the disease. As individuals, it’s a good idea to distance ourselves from the mass of false information about the virus to prevent the escalation of panic and detrimental actions. Stay safe, healthy, and calm. 

And, if you have ideas on anything else apklab.io could do to help during this time of crisis, contact us at apklab@avast.com or @apklabio.