Google Play Fraudsters Engage In Cat And Mouse Game With Google

The Google Play app store saw several apps removed by Google in July in response to sophisticated criminals and part-time hustlers uploading significant numbers of apps to Google Play that either harm users or damage the advertising ecosystem through ad fraud. This is partly due to Google Play being a relatively open ecosystem, which has allowed it to amass 1.6 million apps for download.

The Wall Street Journal reported in July that a number of apps had been suspended from the Google Play store under suspicion of fraudulently claiming advertising revenue for ads that were never shown to users. Perhaps not surprisingly, their reporter’s attempts to contact the companies that uploaded the rogue applications to the Play store were unsuccessful.

Bans are also enforced by Google for serious issues beyond advertising fraud, as many rogue apps on Play are also able to directly take money out of consumers wallets through premium messaging or through hijacking other phone features to steal confidential data. The raft of ad fraud bans instituted by Google came just days after the BBC reported that Google had removed an “undeletable” app from the Play store.

When attempting to trick Google Play users into installing their dangerous uploads, fraudsters often “spoof” the appearance of another popular app in the Play store. In the case of this Google ban, it was the successful Battery Bot Pro that was mirrored in the form of a look-alike entry to the Google Play store that users were unable to delete and which was able to send premium rate texts on their behalf.

Parents who allow their children unfettered access to play with their smartphones are increasing their risk of falling victim to Google Play fraud. Naturally, children are inclined to click “download” and play without giving any thought to potential risks on Google Play.

Even old apps, which haven’t been used on a device for some months, can pose a security threat to Google Play users, as noted by security expert Rik Ferguson when talking to the BBC.

“Delete apps you no longer use. Attackers can get into your smartphone through poorly written apps, so the more you have the greater the risk.”

With apps downloaded from Google Play now finding their way into offices through the relaunch of Google Glass, the opportunity for fraudsters to access confidential data through rogue Play apps is only likely to increase over time as Glass has powerful voice, image recognition, and recording capabilities.

With fraudsters’ attacks on Google Play becoming more sophisticated, and huge amounts of money to be made, both through ad fraud and through defrauding consumers directly, expect to see news of bans and app removals from the Google Play store to increase over coming months as Google seeks to keep Play users and its advertising ecosystem safe.

[Photo by Robert Galbraith / Pool / Getty Images]