The Google Play Store is reportedly littered with trojans and malware-infected apps that are stealing sensitive information, and money, from unsuspecting victims.
Cybersecurity researchers from Dr. Web recently analyzed the state of the mobile app store, and found that the number of trojanized apps (seemingly legitimate applications, carrying trojans either directly within code, or by means of “updates” or “addons”) is “spiking”.
In most cases, the compromised apps are either cryptocurrency wallets and management apps, investment app clones, or photo editors. While Google managed to remove most of the apps from the store already, some persisted, with one of the apps from the list – Top Navigation – still available on the Play Store at press time.
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That app, together with another one from the same developer – called Advice Photo Power, have been downloaded more than 600,000 times, although the users don’t seem to be all too pleased with the apps, judging by the comments.
Squeezing past Google’s defenses
When they’re not stealing sensitive data, these apps will load affiliate service sites, or trick people into enabling paid subscriptions.
But squeezing a malicious app into Google Play Store – and keeping it there – is a difficult task. That’s why threat actors also use other online communities, such as websites, forums, or social media channels, to distribute the apps.
Dr. Web’s report says that one of the most significant threats this year – various WhatsApp mods – were distributed just like that. These mods include GBWhatsApp, OBWhatsApp, or WhatsApp Plus, which claim to offer support for additional languages, home screen widgets, call blocking, or other features that aren’t available in the actual app.
Once installed, some of these apps will even download additional malicious APKs, claiming that they’re downloading an update.
To keep the Android device safe from various threats, users should stay away from downloading apps from third-party sources, make sure to always read comments and reviews before downloading an app from the Play Store, to pay attention to the permissions each new app is asking for, watch for any unexpected battery drain, and to monitor all of the online purchases made by various mobile apps, researchers have warned.
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