What you need to know

  • Google has removed 85 Android apps from the Play Store after security firm Trend Micro found them to be delivering adware.
  • The adware-laden apps were masquerading as photography or gaming apps on the Play Store.
  • Mobile ad fraud campaigns reportedly cost businesses financial losses of around $10 million in 2018.

The security researchers at Trend Micro recently found 85 adware-laden Android apps on the Google Play Store. According to the company, majority of the apps that were discovered were found to be disguised as photography and gaming apps and were downloaded over 8 million times.

Ecular Xu, mobile threat response engineer at Trend Micro, wrote in a blog post:

We found another example of adware's potential real-life impact on Google Play. Trend Micro detects this as AndroidOS_Hidenad.HRXH. It isn't your run-of-the-mill adware family: Apart from displaying advertisements that are difficult to close, it employs unique techniques to evade detection through user behavior and time-based triggers.

All the 85 adware-laden apps were removed from the Play Store soon after Trend Micro reported its findings to Google. Super Selfie, Cos Camera, Pop Camera, and One Stroke Line Puzzle were the most popular among the 85 apps that were discovered by Trend Micro as being adware-infected. All four apps were downloaded over a million times each. A list of all the 85 removed apps can be found here.

The researchers found that the apps would hide their icon and create a shortcut on the phone's home screen roughly 30 minutes after being installed. This prevented the apps from being uninstalled by dragging and dropping the icon to the Uninstall section.

To evade detection, the adware apps use Java reflection, which allows the runtime behavior of an app to be inspected or modified. Once the app verifies the device has been unlocked, it starts displaying ads in full screen. Users are allowed to close the app only once they have viewed the whole duration of the ad. Fraudsters can also remotely configure how often the ads are displayed on affected devices.

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