Monday, February 4, 2019

Google bans dozens of malicious photo-stealing Android apps from Play Store

Had already been downloaded over 4 million times

While Apple has kept relatively tight control over its App Store, Google has historically been a little looser with what it lets onto its own app storefront. Although the tech giant has made efforts recently to clean up the Play Store, there are still some bad actors getting through.

A report from cybersecurity firm Trend Micro has found a batch of 29 photo- and selfie-related apps that have all been acting maliciously towards the users that installed them. The bad behavior ranges from money-making schemes like serving up inappropriate and fraudulent full-screen ads when users unlock their phone, to potentially more troubling activities like stealing user photos and uploading them to an external server.

What’s worse is that a majority of the apps in question have been downloaded thousands of times, and three of them have been installed over a million times each. Trend Micro states that a large number of these downloads occurred in Asia, especially India, where photo-related apps are exceedingly popular.

Google's deleted millions of fake reviews from the Play Store in the past week
Dodgy tactics

Some of these apps have utilized tricks to hide the app icon to make it more difficult to uninstall, and when the aforementioned pop-up ads run, there’s often no indication that the particular app is the cause of them.

The majority of the full-screen ads use typical pop-up scam tactics, with text claiming the user has won something (usually an iPhone), or in some cases posing as a commercial pornography service, but clicking through the link will lead to a phishing scam where users must enter their details to ‘claim their prize’.

Half a billion Android users downloaded malware from Play Store
Among the 29 apps that Trend Micro uncovered, another offered to beautify a user’s selfies, although once the user uploads a photo to the external server, they are then served with a fake update prompt which leads, again, to a phishing site.

The bad actor is then free to use the uploaded selfies for such nefarious purposes as fake social media profile pictures.

After being made aware of the problematic apps, Google has removed them from its Play Store. However, as with any app you're considering installing, it’s always worth checking out the store reviews to see if any other users have found them exhibiting suspicious behavior.

Below is the list of the malicious apps discovered by Trend Micro, appearing from most to least downloaded:

  1. Pro Camera Beauty
  2. Cartoon Art Photo
  3. Emoji Camera
  4. Artistic effect Filter
  5. Art Editor
  6. Beauty Camera
  7. Selfie Camera Pro
  8. Horizon Beauty Camera
  9. Super Camera
  10. Art Effects for Photo
  11. Awesome Cartoon Art
  12. Art filter Photo
  13. Art Filter Photo Effects
  14. Cartoon Effect
  15. Art Effect
  16. Photo Editor
  17. Wallpapers HD
  18. Magic Art Filter Photo Editor
  19. Fill Art Photo Editor
  20. ArtFlipPhotoEditing
  21. Art Filter
  22. Cartoon Art Photo Filter
  23. Art Filter Photo Editor
  24. Pixture
  25. Art Effect
  26. Photo Art Effect
  27. Cartoon Photo Filter

While it may go without saying, if you have any of the above apps installed then it's recommended you remove them immediately.

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