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22 apps pulled after this new adware trick tried to get more cash

Shady apps that load and click ads behind your back are nothing new. It’s a problem that’s plagued the Google Play store for the past few months.

Adware typically lurks in games or messaging apps that look real, but these apps don’t work as described once they’re downloaded. Once you open it, you’re instead subjected to a barrage of intrusive ads designed only to profit the developer(s).

Now a new trick’s been added to the scheme to make even more money. And these adware apps were downloaded more than 2 million times before they were discovered and removed.

A new twist on an old scheme

Google just pulled 22 Android apps from its Play Store, similar to previous adware apps, but these had a couple of differences. They didn’t just disguise the apps, they also tried to disguise the device they were installed on as a way to earn more money.

Sophos iPhone code string

To online advertisers, these apps would make an Android device appear to be an iPhone. Why is that important? It’s because traffic from Apple devices is valued more on ad networks than other devices, including Android, Windows and Linux.

When activated, these apps would open a hidden browser window, initiate a change in code to make it look like an iPhone, navigate to specific web pages and click on ads so the adware developer could cash-in.

Bonus: Do pop-ups mean your iPhone is hacked?

These adware apps were also much more aggressive. If you closed the apps in question, they would restart after three minutes and start the process over. If you have one of these apps and noticed your battery draining faster, this could be the reason.

The latest apps discovered to be adware

The 22 apps were discovered and reported to Google last month by cyber-security firm Sophos Labs. They also found that this particular adware operation seems to have started about six months ago.

Below is the list of apps that were removed, as published by Sophos:

  • AK Blackjack
  • Animal Match
  • Box Stack
  • Cliff Diver
  • Color Tiles
  • HexaBlocks
  • HexaFall
  • Jelly Slice
  • Join Up
  • Just Flashlight
  • Magnifeye
  • Math Solver
  • Neon Pong
  • PairZap
  • Roulette Mania
  • ShapeSorter
  • Snake Attack
  • Space Rocket
  • Sparkle FlashLight
  • Table Soccer
  • Tak A Trip
  • Zombie Killer

Of this list, the most popular was the Sparkle flashlight app, which was downloaded more than 1 million times. That’s about the same number of downloads of the other 21 apps combined. These same apps also appear on the iTunes Store, apparently without the code that causes them to click on ads.

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