Hackers are tricking kids into installing malicious apps—here's how to keep your family safe

Kristine Solomon
·5 min read

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Malicious apps Norton Security Online
Tweens and teens are being targeted on sites like Tik Tok and Instagram to download malicious apps. (Photo: Getty)

It’s impossible to monitor kids’ internet activity 24/7. New social media platforms and messaging apps pop up all the time, and young people are always the first to know. In fact, almost half of kids ages 12 to 16 feel addicted to their smartphones, says cyber safety group Enough is Enough. Considering teens and tweens can also be overly trusting, it’s no wonder they’re targets for online scammers.

If you’re like 39 percent of parents, you use parental controls to filter out dangers online. Sadly, that’s not enough — especially now that scammers are targeting kids through one of their favorite digital pastimes: gaming apps.

More than 2.4 million people unknowingly downloaded malicious gaming apps this past summer

Malicious apps, Norton Security Online
Malicious apps, Norton Security Online

Brace yourself: malicious apps disguised as games were downloaded 15 million times this summer — directly from the Google Play Store, no less — according to the cybersecurity pros at Avast. Many of the games, puzzles, and even smartphone wallpaper apps were advertised on youth-oriented platforms like Tik Tok, Instagram and YouTube. But the kids and teens who installed these hundreds of of infected apps didn’t realize they carried dangerous adware.

Once installed, a malicious app overwhelms your mobile device with unwanted pop-ads. Just one click and those ads will trigger malware, or malicious software, to take over the device and steal sensitive information like payment details, social security numbers and anything else that could lead to identity theft. If the phone is connected to your at-home Wi-Fi, other devices on that network can be compromised, too.

Norton Security Online offers a 30-day free trial so you can test-drive the software. After that, it’s just $4.99 a month

Norton Security Online is an undisputed leader in cybersecurity (Photo: Yahoo)
Norton Security Online is an undisputed leader in cybersecurity (Photo: Yahoo)

One way to head off malicious apps at the pass is to invest in powerful antivirus software like Norton Security Online — an undisputed leader in cybersecurity. One account protects up to five mobile devices from cyber threats of all kinds. Once downloaded, the software will detect and remove existing malware, then thwart future attempted adware attacks in real time. It also shields any personal or financial information tied to each device using bank-grade encryption.

Norton Security Online offers a 30-day free trial so you can test-drive the software. After that, it’s just $4.99 a month

Norton Security Online, malicious apps
Norton Security Online, malicious apps

Norton Security Online is like a full-time babysitter for kids’ online experiences — and, frankly, yours as well. Malware can be hiding in any app. It’s also easy to fall prey to adware traps when you’re shopping, banking, or making donations online. Malware even comes in the form of phishing emails and texts.

While Norton antivirus software is crucial to your family’s online safety, there are also precautions you should take against malicious apps. We turned to cyber security expert Nevin Markwart, Chief Information Security Officer at FutureVault, for tips.

Only download apps from legitimate sources like Apple and Google

While third-party app stores exist, they carry a much greater risk of malware infections, so it’s best to block kids’ access to them altogether.

“The key to avoiding malicious apps is to only download apps from Apple or Google,” says Makwart. “These platforms have matured over the past ten years and do a great job of filtering away application developers that violate the platform security and privacy requirements. Use of other platforms can be quite risky.”

That said, hundreds of malicious apps have managed to bypass the Google Play Store’s security barriers this year alone (Apple’s App Store is safer, but not hacker-proof), so Norton Security Online is still a necessary reinforcement.

Shop it: Norton Security Online, 30 days free then $4.99 a month, subscriptions.yahoo.com

Be wary of giving permissions when prompted by an app

Norton Security Online, malicious apps
Norton Security Online, malicious apps

An app you download may prompt you to turn on location services or request permission to access your camera, microphone or even your storage. It’s easy to hit “accept” just to keep things moving, but Makwart warns, “be very diligent provisioning permissions for the app. Ask yourself, does the app really need to access your camera or personal contacts?”

Unnecessary permissions should be a red flag that an app is looking for avenues of attack. Err on the side of caution and instruct kids to do the same. If an app can’t operate without the requested permissions, you’ll always have an opportunity to grant them later.

Shop it: Norton Security Online, 30 days free then $4.99 a month, subscriptions.yahoo.com

Do not keep apps ‘open’ on your device when not in use

“When apps are ‘running in the background,’ they can still send information and data back to the app developer,” says Makwart. “If the user has provisioned the app to receive the user’s location, the app developer will be enabled to track its users, unnecessarily, for extended periods of time.”

Bottom line: if an app doesn’t need to know your location, don’t let it. Young people are often conditioned to keep apps like Snapchat running in the background so friends can know where they are at all times. They may need a reminder to break this habit.

One program you can always keep running in the background, though, is Norton Security Online. It’s the software that never sleeps, keeping kids, parents and anyone with a mobile device safe from malicious apps that want more information than you should ever share.

Norton Security Online (Photo: subscriptions.yahoo.com)
Norton Security Online (Photo: subscriptions.yahoo.com)

Shop it: Norton Security Online, 30 days free then $4.99 a month, subscriptions.yahoo.com

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