TikTok and WhatsApp users have been warned about a dangerous new scam which could leave their devices filled with malware. TikTok has had a meteoric rise in popularity, with the viral video app downloaded over two billion times by people across the globe. And the app’s huge userbase has been put on alert after security experts discovered cyber criminals are trying to spread malware via TikTok links.
These fake TikTok links are being circulated via the world’s most popular chat app – WhatsApp – as well as in SMS messages.
So far this scam has mainly been spotted in India, where cyber crooks are trying to take advantage of the recent ban of TikTok in the region.
TikTok was among 59 Chinese apps that have been banned in India, with these apps having a combined monthly active userbase of 505million last month.
New Delhi claimed the apps threatened “national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India”.
The news is a major blow to TikTok as India is their largest overseas market, with the app downloaded over 611million times in the region alone.
The widespread block comes amid tensions between India and China after deadly border clashes in June that left 20 Indian soldiers dead.
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The block, enforced at the start of this month, resulted in TikTok being taken off the Google Play and Apple App Store.
The TikTok desktop site is also inaccessible for users in the region right now.
And amidst this backdrop, scammers have been trying to take advantage of the huge amount of users in India that are unable to access TikTok.
Fake messages are being spread with links that allegedly offer a way to download TikTok once again, in spite of the ban.
However, it’s all part of an elaborate scam to get TikTok users to download a malware-filled app that can steal sensitive information from a victim’s phone.
The threat was highlighted by the cyber security experts at Maharashtra Cyber.
In a post online they said: “While the use and download of the official TikTok app continues to remain banned in India, cybercriminals, calling a new app TikTok Pro, are sending messages on various social media platforms to download the same from external links.
“This fake malware app, appears just as the original TikTok app and requests permissions for camera, image gallery, mic and others…stealing sensitive information from your phone”.
Maharashtra Cyber added: “Users should never download any APK files that mimic services of TikTok or any other popular apps banned by the government as these can be sources of spreading malware.”
While the scam is currently affecting users in India, there is the potential for it to hit users in other regions around the world in the future.
That’s because there have been recent calls for TikTok to get blocked in the US and Australia.
At the start of this week US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration were “certainly looking” at restricting access to TikTok in America.
While there is increasing pressure down under for a ban on TikTok just one month after the firm opened their first local office.
An unnamed federal MP has called for TikTok to be banned in Australia while Senator Jenny McAllister also spoke about the issue.
The chair of Australia’s Select Committee on Foreign Interference Through Social Media said: “There have been credible reports that TikTok takes more data than its users would expect, and moderates content for reasons that its users may not be comfortable with.
“I think Australians would expect that TikTok and other platforms will appear before the Senate committee to answer questions – both about their own policies and the best way to secure a healthy social media environment.”
The Australian branch of TikTok, for their part, has hit back at suggestions the platform would share data with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or censor content.
TikTok Australia’s general manager Lee Hunter said: “TikTok does not share information of our users in Australia with any foreign government, including the Chinese government, and would not do so if asked.
“We place the highest importance on user privacy and integrity.”
But it remains to be seen whether access to TikTok could get restricted in other regions around the world in the imminent future.
And if it does then that opens the door for similar scams, like the one seen in India, being spread in other countries.