Global cybersecurity company Kaspersky has reported 28 million cyber attacks and 102 million detections of potentially unwanted applications (PUA) – such as pornware and adware – in sub-Saharan Africa so far this year.

Results from a study over a 7-month period ended early August showed that there were 3.8 million malware attacks and 16.8 million PUA detections – which is four times as much – in Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria. 

Kenyan and South African threat landscapes have been more intense. There were almost 10 million malware attacks and a staggering 43 million PUA detections in the latter while Kenyan users faced even more malware attacks – around 14 million  – and 41 million PUA appearances.

“These numbers show that it’s not only the malware that attacks users but also the grey zone programs that grow in popularity and disturb their experiences, while users might not even know it is there,” Kapersky said in a report.

Potentially unwanted applications are programs that are usually not considered to be malicious by themselves but they generally influence user experience in a negative way. Adware for instance fills user devices with ads; aggressive monetizing software propagates unrequested paid offers; downloaders may download even more various applications on the device, sometimes malicious ones. 

While calculating interim results of threat landscape activity in African countries, the researchers noticed that PUAs attack users almost four times more often than traditional malware. They also eventually reach more users: for instance, while in South Africa, the malware would attack 415,000 users in 7 months of 2020, the figure for PUA would be 736,000.

“The reason why ‘grey zone’ software is growing in popularity is that it is harder to notice at first and that if the program is detected, its creators won’t be considered to be cybercriminals,” said Denis Parinov, a security researcher at Kaspersky. “The problem with them is that users are not always aware they consented to the installation of such programs on their device and that in some cases, such programs are exploited or used as a disguise for malware downloads.”

By taking a closer look at PUA, it becomes apparent that they are not only more widespread but also more potent than traditional malware, Kapersky noted. “This is why many security solutions, including ours, flags such programs to make sure users are aware of its presence, influence on their device and activity,” added Parinov.

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