Google's vetting process before letting apps in its Play Store has been under scrutiny and despite several efforts, the problem doesn't seem to disappear. Malicious apps continue to plague the pool of Play Store, where millions of users get their apps trusting Google. While the majority of the Android apps in Google's marketplace remain clean, there's a small portion of ill-intended apps that manage to attract sizable attention.
If you're constantly looking for new apps to try out, you better watch out for adware and malware-ridden apps hiding in plain sight. Luckily, cybersecurity firms are on the lookout for such bad actors and warn users in a timely fashion to review their smartphone apps.
An independent security researcher and a cybersecurity firm have identified a total of 6 malicious apps that might be residing in your phone, committing ad-fraud. Here's the list of apps you must avoid if you don't already have them on your phone:
- Hotspot VPN
- Free VPN Master
- Secure VPN
- Security Master by Cheetah Mobile
These VPN apps are highly popular among users and they collectively account for over 500 million installs. These apps are the culprit behind those intrusive ads you haven't been able to figure out where they originate. The most annoying part is that these VPN apps don't just display ads within the app, but serve them on the home screen while running in the backgrounds, security researcher Andy Michael found.
Despite their mischievous nature, these adware apps are still listed on the Play Store, so it's best to stay clear of them. In case you have any of these apps, originating from China and Hong Kong, it's best to uninstall them right away.
Advertisements are a huge part of the revenue source for developers, and they are fine only as long as they are within the bounds of the app and not too intrusive. Displaying ads out of the app is just a major ad fraud committed by developers who want to earn extra bucks.
- Sun Pro Beauty Camera
- Funny Sweet Beauty Selfie Camera
It's a common practice among users to look for fun apps that give unique camera filters for quick fun. But that short-term amusement can result in a long-term foul experience. Two popular photo apps listed above have a total of over 1.5 million downloads and serve adware to its users.
Wandera, a cybersecurity firm, discovered these apps' practices and noted that "more advanced functionality than your average adware." These apps also gain unnecessary permissions to record audio without users' consent and display full-screen ads out of the app.
Bad actors disguising as photo apps is a popular cover and works all the time. As end-users, it is imperative that all permissions are strictly checked before hitting that "allow" button blindly. Also, vetting the developers, checking reviews, and sticking to the Play Store to download any apps is the thumb rule for staying clear of malicious apps.