21 Malicious Apps Downloaded 8 Million Times From Google Play

Despite Google’s best efforts to keep Android users safe, malware does manage to slip into Google Play from time to time, and the 21 malicious apps that Avast identified recently are proof of that.

Catered for gamers, the apps were found to include adware that is part of the HiddenAds family. The offending applications appear to have been downloaded roughly 8 million times before being discovered.

The HiddenAds malware, Avast explains, poses as fun or useful apps but in reality delivers intrusive ads outside the application. Often, the malware would make detection difficult by hiding behind relevant-looking advertisements and would attempt to prevent removal by hiding icons.

In this case, the threat was disguised as games promising to provide users with highly engaging actions.

“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,” notes Jakub Vávra, threat analyst at Avast.

To stay protected, users are advised to always double-check any application they want to download and install on their devices, even those listed in Google Play.

Just as HiddenAds managed to bypass Google’s protections and enter the mobile app store, other malware families did and may continue to do so as well. Checking the app’s reviews, price, and ratings in the store and paying attention to the requested permissions should help users identify suspicious apps.

“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,” Vávra notes.

Avast also advises users to educate themselves to identify scammers in areas they most often visit, such as online social platforms, YouTube, and the like. Applying rules where children need an adult’s permission before downloading an app should also help keep scammers and malware away.

Related: Cerberus Banking Trojan Delivered via App Hosted on Google Play

Related: Malicious Optimizers Hosted on Google Play Amassed 470,000 Downloads

Related: App Found in Google Play Exploits Recent Android Zero-Day

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Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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