Google’s Play Store continues to face serious malware problems

Anne Freier

In App Business. September 24, 2019

Google Play Store’s malware issue doesn’t seem to go away. According to security researcher Andy Michael, more apps have been detected with over 500 million downloads that serve ads that run in the background without a user’s knowledge.

The apps originate from China and Hong Kong and include Hotspot VPNFree VPN MasterSecure VPN, and Security Master by Cheetah Mobile.

Most of the apps were anti-virus or VPN apps, which may point toward the increasing trend that developers are relying on consumers to trust security apps more.

Hotspot VPN also included code to show full-screen ads draining battery life and CPU usage. Free VPN Master shared the same code for service Google ads and Michael suspects both apps to be the same with minor code modifications.

Apps need to be force-stopped using Android settings for the behaviour to stop.

Secure VPN was the worst offender serving ads when people used other apps and overlaid on the home screen.

Security Master had a more sophisticated mechanism that shows ads when users try to get back to the home screen or click certain buttons.

“Developers use this [method] because every impression/click gives them revenue,” Michael said. “Due to high popularity of VPN apps, if making a quick buck is the goal, serving outside ads in VPN apps would be a logical choice.”

Google strictly forbids adware and disruptive ads. The company said it would take action against these apps.

In August, Google removed 85 entertainment apps for fraud violations.