Beware! Sneaky adware hides its own icon to avoid deletion

Our Bureau Hyderabad | Updated on October 10, 2019 Published on October 10, 2019

Think twice before downloading free call, QR code reading, image editor apps


If you have the habit of downloading apps left, right and centre, you may have inadvertently downloaded camouflaged apps that come with adware, which generates revenues for its developers by popping up advertisements.

They want the users to go through the feedback given by the users below the app download launcher. Most of these apps get negative reviews from users, highlighting the nagging issues that they encountered while using the app. The thumb rule is – don’t be the first person to try out a brand new app.

One should be careful before downloading apps that offer free calls and messaging, QR code readers, image editors, backup utilities and a phone finder.

“To stay safe when downloading apps from the Google Play Store, users are advised to read reviews and sort them by most recent and filter out the positive four and five-star reviews with no written text,” Andrew Brandt, principal researcher at SophosLabs, advises.

Cybersecurity experts have identified 15 apps on Google Play, the android app store. These apps are found to be generators of intrusive advertisements that keep on popping up on the screens. Some of them hide in the phone’s app settings page, avoiding your suspecting eyes.

Quoting reports, cybersecurity experts at Sophos said over 13 lakh devices were populated with these adware apps. The bad news is, scores of other phones may have downloaded such apps.

“App developers have, for years, embedded ad-code into their apps as a way to help defray the costs of development, but some developers simply use their apps as a borderline-abusive platform solely to launch ads on mobile devices,” Andrew Brandt has said.

“The 15 apps that have been identified generate frequent, large, intrusive ads and hide their app icons in the launcher to make it difficult for you to find and remove them. Several of them go a step further by disguising themselves in the phone’s App settings page,” he said.

When first launched, the app displays a message that says - ‘This app is incompatible with your device!’ “You might think that the app has crashed, because, after this ‘crash’, the app opens the Play Store and navigates to the page for Google Maps. This is to mislead you into thinking that the ubiquitous Maps app is the cause of the problem. It is not. This is a ruse,” he said.

Nine out of the batch of 15 apps used deceptive application icons and names, most of which appeared to have been chosen because they might plausibly resemble an innocuous system app.

“By hiding their launcher icon, and using an application icon and name that resembles a system app, these apps make a convincing case to a casual observer that there’s nothing unusual installed on the phone,” he points out.

Sophos says almost all of these apps were found this calendar year and had been taken down.

“While these apps have been removed from the Google Play Store, there may be others we haven’t yet discovered that do the same thing,” Andrew Brandt says.

How to spot an erring app

If you suspect that an app you recently installed is hiding its icon in the app tray, go to ‘Settings’ and then to ‘Apps and Notifications’.

The most recently opened apps appear in a list at the top of this page. If any of those apps use the generic Android icon (which looks like a little greenish-blue Android silhouette) and have generic-sounding names (‘Back Up,’ ‘Update,’ ‘Time Zone Service’) tap the generic icon and then tap ‘Force Stop’ followed by ‘Uninstall.’

“A real system app will have a button named ‘Disable’ instead of ‘Uninstall’, and you don’t need to bother disabling it,” he cautions.

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Published on October 10, 2019
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