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February 3, 2015

Avast sounds the alarm about apps on Google Play that pose as games and infect users with adware

A new report from Avast supplies more evidence for the conclusion that Google Android is the least secure major mobile operating system there is.

A couple of days ago, a user posted a comment on our forum regarding apps harboring adware that can be found on Google Play. This didn’t seem like anything spectacular at the beginning, but once I took a closer look it turned out that this malware was a bit bigger than I initially thought. First of all, the apps are on Google Play, meaning that they have a huge target audience – in English speaking and other language regions as well. Second, the apps were already downloaded by millions of users and third, I was surprised that the adware lead to some legitimate companies.

The Durak card game app was the most widespread of the malicious apps with 5 – 10 million installations according to Google Play.

When you install Durak, it seems to be a completely normal and well working gaming app. This was the same for the other apps, which included an IQ test and a history app. This impression remains until you reboot your device and wait for a couple of days. After a week, you might start to feel there is something wrong with your device. Some of the apps wait up to 30 days until they show their true colors. After 30 days, I guess not many people would know which app is causing abnormal behavior on their phone, right? :)

Each time you unlock your device an ad is presented to you, warning you about a problem, e.g. that your device is infected, out of date or full of porn. This, of course, is a complete lie. You are then asked to take action, however, if you approve you get re-directed to harmful threats on fake pages, like dubious app stores and apps that attempt to send premium SMS behind your back or to apps that simply collect too much of your data for comfort while offering you no additional value.

This is awful, but not surprising.

Considering how much control Google wields over its store and branded builds of the Android operating system, you might be tempted to think that apps would be well-screened and that this kind of problem wouldn’t exist. But it does, because Google is synonymous with shoddy security.

The NSA has long considered the Monster of Mountain View one-stop shopping, and it wasn’t until Edward Snowden leaked a mountain of data that Google decided to start encrypting the traffic that flowed between their servers. That’s progress, for sure, but it doesn’t change the fact that Google’s business model is itself built on user surveillance and data mining. Repeated reports like this show us that Android is not for anyone who cares about privacy or security.

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