Riskware turning legitimate programs into threats

Edward G. | July 09, 2020

Riskware, a blend of ‘risk’ and ‘software,’ defines a thin line between benign and malignant programs. Although the name signals danger, it can refer to legitimate software, not malicious by default. However, crooks know how to take advantage of critical vulnerabilities for personal gain. With so many applications on the market, it can be difficult to recognize which programs pose a risk. So, what is riskware, how to recognize it, and how to defend against it?

What is riskware?

Riskware represents a category of potentially dangerous applications. However, these programs might not be malicious by default. Instead, they have critical flaws that cybercriminals exploit. Modified versions of legitimate applications can perform stealthy, under-the-hood procedures.

For instance, hackers could alter the program to gather users’ private information, encrypt files, or perform constant tracking. Even though the owners of programs had no intention of engaging in such devious activities, hackers turn them against unsuspecting users. A WhatsApp Plus application for Androids ended up in the riskware category for stealing victims’ data, photos, contact lists, and other assets.

Applications can belong to the riskware group due to the following reasons:

  • The app violates the terms and conditions.
  • The app blocks the updates and patches of other programs.
  • The app is illegal in the user’s home country.
  • The app serves as a backdoor for other malware injections.

Types of riskware

In general, applications classified as riskware can provide unauthorized control or access to a device, operating system, and internal data. Although there are various ways how crooks achieve this end-goal, here are the most common strategies:

  • Downloaders. A group of vulnerable programs that can help hackers smuggle more malicious programs into devices. These can include files or apps downloaded from suspicious sources.
  • Remote administration programs. Such tools might allow crooks to gain remote access to devices. Due to the remote control these programs provide, they are exceptionally dangerous. Hackers will have the privilege of taking over gadgets and performing any actions they want.
  • Operating system and application updates. Security patches are necessary to fix detected vulnerabilities. Unpatched security loopholes leave your device open to countless threats. So, ensure that all your programs are up to date with the latest fixes.
  • Other riskware apps may be system monitoring or password management services, dialer programs, data packet sniffing tools, or others.

How to defend against riskware?

Riskware is often tricky to detect right off the bat. Due to hackers’ ability to mimic or alter legitimate programs, antivirus or anti-malware programs may not detect a vicious intruder. However, certain prevention techniques are both simple and effective.

  • Carefully observe your device’s performance. More sluggish performance of your machine and other irregularities may signal an infection.
  • Examine applications and files that you don’t remember downloading. Remove programs you rarely use to minimize the risks of falling victim to attacks.
  • Download applications from authorized and reputable sources only.
  • Update your operating system and applications to prevent crooks from exploiting flaws against you.
  • Use a robust antivirus that has a riskware detection feature. Not all products on the market offer this additional protection. So, dig deeper to find an optimal digital solution.
  • Do not forget a VPN to encrypt your traffic and protect it from misuse or alterations. Besides securing private data, Atlas VPN feature SafeBrowse protects you from entering malicious websites. Hence, you’ll receive notifications if an entity attempts to trick you into clicking or downloading riskware.
Edward G.

Edward G.

Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN. My mission is to scan the ever-evolving cybercrime landscape to inform the public about the latest threats.



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