Device Spoofing: What It Is and How To Prevent It

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The app industry is experiencing rapid global growth, with a staggering 5.5 million apps available on the Apple and Google Play stores and a total of 299 billion downloads in 2023, according to Statista. 

What's also on the rise is the global consumer spending on apps, projected to reach USD 270 billion by 2025. However, a cautionary note is warranted: where there is money, there is also the risk of fraud. 

Fraudsters employ various techniques and malicious tools to exploit legitimate apps, deceive users, and obtain financial benefits within this ecosystem. One of the practices used to successfully carry out their attacks is device spoofing.

What is device spoofing?

Device Spoofing is a technique where fraudsters manipulate or change a device's identity to fool platforms/apps into thinking that they’re a legitimate visitor. 

This practice involves altering the device's fingerprint, encompassing both behavioral patterns and device characteristics. Therefore, it's possible to blend the modification of a real device's usage appearance with adjustments to the GPS location, time zone data, IP address, and other factors. 

Fraudsters utilize diverse methods, such as changing device identifiers or employing tools like emulators to mimic different devices.

By employing this tactic, fraudsters seek to:

1. Mask their identity/location: Falsifying device information enables them to conceal their true identity and location, making it challenging for security systems to identify them.

2. Bypass Security Measures: Presenting a forged device identity allows fraudsters to behave like real users, complicating the task for security measures to differentiate between genuine and malicious activities.

3. Execute fraud: After spoofing a device, fraudsters can engage in various illicit activities, taking advantage of the manipulated device identity to carry out deceptive schemes, such as: 

  • Fake accounts creation: Fraudsters use device spoofing to mimic the characteristics of legitimate devices and create fake accounts to conduct scams. 
  • Account takeovers: Malicious individuals may utilize device spoofing to gain unauthorized access to individuals’ bank accounts, conduct fraudulent transactions and steal funds.
  • Identity Theft: Device spoofing is used as part of a broader strategy to steal sensitive information from a targeted individual's device. After obtaining personal information, fraudsters may engage in identity theft, applying for credit cards, loans, or other financial services in the victim's name.

Techniques used for device spoofing

Fraudsters utilize a variety of methods to spoof device’s fingerprint and one straightforward method involves conducting a factory reset. This process entails wiping all data from the device and restoring it to its original factory settings to appear as new. This tactic allows fraudsters to continue using that device on a platform even after it’s been flagged as suspicious. 

Another commonly used approach involves emulators—software designed to replicate authentic device hardware features, creating the appearance of using an entirely different device. This enables fraudsters to modify the model, device ID, and even the operating system version.

Criminals leverage this software to feign different device IDs, swiftly transitioning from one to another. They scale attacks by simultaneously emulating and establishing networks of thousands of emulated devices.

Additional techniques employed to change device attributes:  

Network Spoofing

  • Description: Fraudsters manipulate network parameters, such as IP addresses or MAC addresses, to present a false network identity.
  • How it works: By manipulating network-related information, fraudsters can deceive systems into perceiving the device as part of a legitimate network or location.

GPS Spoofing

  • Description: Fraudsters manipulate GPS on a device to provide false location information.
  • How it works: In applications or services where location verification is critical, fraudsters utilize GPS spoofing to present a different location than the actual one.

IP Address Spoofing

  • Description: Malicious individuals use VPN, proxy, or Tor to substitute the true IP address with another.
  • How it works: By adopting a false IP address, fraudsters can circumvent filters and security measures dependent on identifying and blocking specific IP addresses associated with malicious activities.

How Device Spoofing affects various industries

The financial industry is the most affected by device spoofing, because it offers significant financial rewards. Nevertheless, criminals also set their sights on additional sectors, including transportation and delivery apps, e-commerce, media and streaming, and gambling.

Explore examples below showcasing how fraudsters carry out device spoofing within each of the aforementioned industries:

Financial Apps: Device spoofing is often employed in account takeover attacks, where fraudsters gain unauthorized access to legitimate user accounts. Once inside, they can manipulate transactions, change account details, and siphon funds.

Here's how device spoofing would look in action:

1. Fraudsters acquire a legitimate user's device ID and bank account information through phishing and/or SMiShing (where the user is deceived, installs malware, and shares information with the criminal);

2. The fraudster sets up an emulator that spoofs the device ID of the account holder;

3. The criminal then spoofs the victim's GPS location;

4. Transactions and transfers take place in the victim's account, resulting in financial losses.

E-commerce or Gambling Apps: Fraudsters leverage device spoofing to manipulate promotions, bonuses, and discounts frequently extended by e-commerce and gambling platforms. By simulating multiple users or devices, they exploit these offers repeatedly, inflicting financial losses on the platforms.

Transport or Delivery Apps: Drivers or couriers may resort to GPS spoofers, projecting a false physical location. This tactic is often employed to monopolize orders or rides in more lucrative areas.

Media and Streaming Apps: Certain services or content are geographically restricted. Fraudsters may resort to device spoofing to tamper with location data and secure access to the restricted service/content.

Why device spoofing fraud detection is important?

Identifying attempts of device spoofing is crucial to prevent financial losses due to fraud and ensure a secure and trustworthy digital ecosystem.

As we've seen in the previous sections, various industries are affected by fraudsters who use device spoofing to commit different types of fraud, masking their location and identity.

Here’s 5 reasons why detecting device spoofing is so important:

Fraud Prevention: Identifying attempts of device spoofing helps prevent fraudulent activities such as account takeover and promotion abuse.

User Data Protection: Device spoofing often involves the manipulation of device IDs, leading to unauthorized access to accounts and sensitive user information. Detection is crucial for data protection.

Building Trust with Users: Device spoofing can undermine user trust in applications and online services. Detection and prevention contribute to building a secure and reliable digital environment.

Business Growth: Avoiding financial losses for companies and their users promotes business growth by focusing on genuine users.

Reputation Preservation: Companies that take a proactive approach in detecting and combating attempts of device spoofing demonstrate a commitment to the security of the platform and its users.

How can SHIELD help prevent device spoofing?

Fraud attempts in mobile applications are evolving and becoming increasingly sophisticated. Therefore, companies need to adopt a proactive approach to real-time device spoofing fraud detection and prevention.

The good news is, SHIELD’s device-first risk intelligence solution stops fraud at the root, and analyzes thousands of device, network, and behavioral data to provide actionable risk intelligence in real time you can use to detect device spoofing.

The SHIELD Device ID, the most powerful feature, identifies every physical device used to create fake accounts and use malicious tools. The technology is highly accurate and persistent, detecting when the fraudster attempts to mask the device's fingerprint or restore the device to appear new.

With Device Risk Intelligence, we continuously monitor each device session, identifying when a good user becomes a threat. The feature detects when malicious tools commonly used to spoof devices, such as emulators, are being used.  

By combining these features, SHIELD provides a robust defense against device spoofing, helping to secure digital platforms and protect users from various fraudulent activities.