RIP Flappy Bird, Hello Malware

Every year brings with it a new app craze. 2011 was the year of Angry Birds; 2012 was the year of Temple Run; 2013 was the year of Candy Crush—and 2014 is definitely on track to be the year of Flappy Bird. Flappy Bird was initially released in May of 2013, but really only gained popularity at the beginning of 2014 thanks to a few viral videos—and a feature on the Apple App Store. In what seemed like no time at all, the app climbed to the top of both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store charts.

Overall, it seemed that the app was in a win-win situation, for both players and the developer, Dong Nguyen. However, things changed in the beginning of February when Nguyen announced on Twitter that he would be taking down the app in 22 hours saying that he never meant for the game to be so addictive and that it had taken over his life as the developer. By the next day, Flappy Bird was gone from all app stores, with only people who had downloaded the app before it was taken down still able to access the app and play.

Even with the app’s untimely demise, the demand for the game showed no signs of diminishing and many developers stepped up to create alternatives. Within a few weeks of the deletion of Flappy Bird, knockoff apps appeared everywhere and many quickly climbed to the top of app store charts. In fact, it was reported that across all platforms, one in every three games posted since the app was deleted are actually Flappy Bird clones. For the most part, these new apps are harmless and offer a reasonable replacement for those who didn’t get the chance to download the original. However, it seems that there are Flappy Bird wannabe apps out there that are just as malicious as they are addictive.

Recent reports found that some Flappy Bird look-a-likes were taking advantage of the original app’s popularity and using it to spread malware and phishing scams. As always, clever cybercriminals never miss an opportunity to capitalize on current events or hot news topics, and this targeting of mobile gamers’ desperate desire to get in on the Flappy Bird trend has been no different. Thankfully, both major app stores—Apple and Google Play—are now keeping a special watch for suspicious Flappy Bird clones. The swift action by these app stores around the Flappy Bird phenomenon shows that user safety is becoming a bigger focus.. However, not every app can be vetted and once the fervor around this app dies down, others will surely rise up to take its place.

While there will always be Flappy Bird-like app crazes, it is crucial for individuals to take the safety of their devices and information seriously, regardless of company involvement. Here are some steps that you can take to always be prepared for the potential scams that will inevitably come in their wake.

  • Know before you download. It’s important to do your research before you install an app on your smartphone or tablet and give it permissions. A good way to vet the legitimacy of apps is to read reviews. Most app stores have this capability, and so if you see that an app you want to download has bad reviews—or even overly positive reviews—you may want to steer clear.
  • Limit app access. In the hurry to start playing a new game, it can be easy to simply click “Allow” for permissions that an app asks for—even if it’s asking for things it shouldn’t need. As a smartphone user, be skeptical of an app that asks for too much information, like GPS data, or contacts and photos. McAfee® Mobile Security will scan your apps and report on any that may be exposing your data without your permission or knowledge.
  • Protect your device… completely. When it comes to security, it is always better to be safe than sorry. Now that McAfee Mobile Security is free for iOS and Android users, there’s no excuse not to take the proper precautions when it comes to the safety of your mobile device and data.

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