Google's open-source operating system has its own advantages, but it is not without any perils. Android smartphone users primarily rely on the Play Store to get apps, which are thoroughly vetted by Google before being listed. But certain malicious apps manage to fool Google, making their way to the Play Store and risking millions of smartphone users.
Google is constantly battling with fake and malware-ridden apps on its massive app marketplace. In its continued efforts to make Play Store safe, Google has removed seven apps for their malicious practices that risked the privacy of kids and employees.
Cybersecurity firm Avast discovered the apps and their stalking nature before reporting them to Google. Thousands of users had installed these apps and the most popular ones from the lot were Spy Tracker and SMS Tracker with more than 50,000 installs combined.
"These apps are highly unethical and problematic for people's privacy and shouldn't be on the Google Play Store," Nikolaos Chrysaidos, Avast's head of mobile threat intelligence and security, said in a statement. "They promote criminal behaviour and can be abused by employers, stalkers or abusive partners to spy on their victims. We classify such apps as stalkerware."
Since the stalkerware apps are stealth, it is hard to tell if a smartphone has it or not. There's no app icon that will inform victims of its existence, so unsuspecting users will be spied on without consent or knowledge. Installing these stalker apps on any phone is as simple as heading to the Play Store and tapping install.
In order to install the malicious app on a smartphone, a person must have access to the device. For this reason alone, it is someone you know, a parent, partner or employer, taking advantage of the stalkerware's malicious features.
Listed below are the stalkerware apps Google removed from Play Store:
- Spy Tracker
- SMS Tracker
- Spy Kids Tracker
- Phone Cell Tracker
- Mobile Tracking
- Employee Work Spy
- Track Employees Check Work Phone Online Spy Free
What should users do?
If you suspect your smartphone has one of these apps or apps with similar functionalities, there's a way to find out. Go to your phone's settings, select "Apps and notifications" and go through the list of apps installed on the phone. If you see an app that you're unaware of or looks suspicious, feel free to uninstall it.
Recently, an Israel-based cyber-security firm CheckPoint discovered a new malware called Agent Smith infecting Android smartphones in a huge number. The malware disguises as a Google-related application, and exploits known Android vulnerabilities and automatically replaces installed apps with malicious versions without users' knowledge or interaction. The easiest way to find out if Agent Smith has infected your device is if apps like WhatsApp show you ads.