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Apps that do nothing but serve ads ‘tricked’ 9 million Android users

10 January 2019

Malware made it past Google's detection systems and infected some 9 million Android users, analyst Trend Micro has found. Google has removed 85 apps from the Google Play Store as a result.

These 85 malicious apps include games, TV remote apps, several others in the form of utility apps on Google Play store according to Trend Micro's security research team. Developers behind such apps then racked up ad impressions from which they profited. But the scale of the ecosystem still means trouble for many. It is great Trend Micro reported these apps to Google who swiftly suspended the fake apps after verifying the report.

If you use Android Auto, update to the latest version of the Google app and you should be able to see a new entry in your audio selector for Podcasts. The apps which were downloaded over nine million times, in total contained a common strain of adware, as reported by ZDNet.

Some of the shady apps that they uncovered included the Easy Universal TV Remote, Advanced Air Ambulance and many more.

Sample of Android apps infected with adware detected by Trend Micro                  Image Trend Micro Composition ZDNet
Sample of Android apps infected with adware detected by Trend Micro Image Trend Micro Composition ZDNet

The report states that "while the fake apps can be removed manually via the phone's app uninstall feature, it can be hard to get there when full-screen ads show up every 15 or 30 minutes or each time a user unlocks the device's screen". Closing the ad reveals what appears to be an app button ('start, ' "open app, ' 'next") but tapping it triggers another fullscreen ad. It also prompts the user to give the app a five-star rating on Google Play. Other apps monitor your screen unlocking actions and show ads each time you unlock your screen.

If the user was persistent and stayed with the app until it reached a menu page, every menu button push would trigger yet another fullscreen ad, over and over again until the app would suddenly crash, hiding its original app icon.

This PDF File comprising the full list of the 85 fake apps can be found here. Some ads also show a full-screen ad every time the user unlocks their phone. However, the app does nothing but bombards the phone with several ads. You can check the names of malicious apps on Trend Micro security archives (here).

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Apps that do nothing but serve ads ‘tricked’ 9 million Android users