Android users have been urged to monitor their app downloads after researchers uncovered a number of potentially damaging services lurking on the official app store.
The malicious apps (the full list of which can be found here), were found to bombard users with intrusive ads, and possibly run up huge phone bills, have been downloaded nearly eight million times in total.
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Avast says that 19 of the apps are still available to download while Google continues its investigations, many of them serving intrusive ads even outside of the application.
Numerous Play Store user reviews mention the apps grabbed their attention through YouTube advertisements, with users then disappointed that the game was very different from what was offered, and advertisements started flooding their phones soon after download.
Avast says that the apps utilise the HiddenAds malware family, where a Trojan disguised as a safe and useful application but instead serves intrusive ads outside of the app.
The firm notes that such campaigns often repurpose existing gaming applications and add aggressive HiddenAds features to be displayed for users. Stealth features such as hiding their icons and having relevant looking advertisements make such adware difficult to identify and remove.
“Developers of adware are increasingly using social media channels, like regular marketers would. This time, users reported they were targeted with ads promoting the games on YouTube. In September we saw adware spread via TikTok. The popularity of these social networks make them an attractive advertising platform, also for cybercriminals, to target a younger audience,” said Jakub Vávra, Threat Analyst at Avast.
“While Google is doing everything possible to prevent HiddenAds from entering its Play Store, the malicious apps keep finding new ways to disguise their true purpose, thus slipping through to the platform and then to users’ phones. Users need to be vigilant when downloading applications to their phones and are advised to check the applications’ profile, reviews and to be mindful of extensive device permission requests.”
Users are being warned to check the reviews of any app they want to download to check for past user complaints. They should also check the apps’ developer account, and make sure to monitor what permissions an app requests before installing to ensure they remain safe.
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Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK's leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he's not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.