Researchers uncover 17 Google Play Store apps swarming phones with aggressive ads

The battery-draining apps used malware tactics to pass Google’s vetting.

More than a dozen Play Store riskware apps with a combined half a million downloads flew under Google’s radar and are pushing aggressive ads, according to a new report. Researchers from antivirus provider Bitdefender discovered 17 apps with the ability to hide on devices. This allowed developers to drown users in ads even when the app wasn’t in use.

What were these apps doing? — In total, these apps were downloaded more than 550,000 times. Post-installation, the apps would wait for four hours before churning out ads and two days before hiding from users. They split their code across resource files so that one file would appear to Google as a functional utility or game while the other houses malicious ad-scheduling and/or app-hiding code. These are the riskware apps:

  • Car Racing 2019
  • 4K Wallpaper (Background 4K Full HD)
  • Backgrounds 4K HD
  • QR Code Reader & Barcode Scanner Pro
  • File Manager Pro - Manager SD Card/Explorer
  • VMOWO City: Speed Racing 3D
  • Barcode Scanner
  • Screen Stream Mirroring
  • QR Code - Scan & Read a Barcode
  • Period Tracker - Cycle Ovulation Women's
  • QR & Barcode Scan Reader
  • Wallpapers 4K, Backgrounds HD
  • Transfer Data Smart
  • Explorer File Manager
  • Today Weather Radar
  • Big Fish Frenzy
  • Clock LED

Once the ads started running, they would appear everywhere, often inhibiting the user from even using the app for its intended purpose. In response to Bitdefender, Google is in the process of taking down the offenders.