There are a lot of different types of malware Android users have to be wary of pretty much every time they download something from Google Play (let alone third-party app stores or other shady places on the interwebs), but while the so-called “fleeceware” method might seem less dangerous at first glance than a widespread banking trojan or a ransomware attack, this increasingly pervasive threat can rob you of hundreds or even thousands of dollars without raising any red flags.
Obviously, the same cannot be said about cybersecurity researchers such as the ones working for Sophos, who’ve recently been able to easily identify several dozen apps that either blatantly ignored or cleverly dodged Google’s newly implemented rules aimed at thwarting this exact malicious phenomenon.
The latest batch of bad actors
Unfortunately, the search giant has yet to take action on “all but a few” of the apps found to employ various dirty tricks to “fleece” subscribers of obscene amounts of money for rudimentary features like file conversion, screen recording, wallpaper selection, or even fortune-telling, so before detailing said deceptive behavior, here’s the list of titles you need to avoid or delete right now, compiled by the folks at Komando based on the package names made public by Sophos:
- File Converter & JPEG Converter
- Recover deleted photos, Photo backup
- Screen recorder: Game recorder
- Photo grid mixer : Insta grid & photogrid
- Search by Image: Image Search – Smart Search
- Dynamic Wallpaper
- Gametris Wallpaper
- Tell Shortvideo
- Video Magician
- Xstar: Sleep and Mindfu – Apps on Google Play
- Palmistry Astrology
- Fortune Mirror
- Prank Call Free Lite
- Fake Chat Conversation – Prank
- Old Me
- My Replica 2: Ethnic Origin, Celebrity Look-Alike
- Live GO Map 2020 for Poke Radar
- IV GO Calculator for Poke GO Genie
- Hy G File Scanner
- Zynoa Wallpaper
That’s a pretty lengthy list, but it’s by no means exhaustive, mind you, and while Google is continuously working on getting rule-dodging devs to revise their borderline illegal and decidedly immoral behavior, some guidelines are far too vague or permissive to protect users.
Some apps are not malicious per se, simply overcharging for the most basic services and features
For instance, Android app developers can legitimately charge up to $400 for weekly subscriptions to their services, which is outright insane whatever said services might include. What devs are no longer allowed to do is conceal the terms of a subscription agreement, but using various tactics, that continues to happen on a scandalously regular basis.
What to do and what to look out for
Users are often fooled into subscribing to a bunch of different apps at once and are overcharged for weekly access to other single services. The detailed terms of many subscriptions are obscured with tiny text that pushes fine print to new heights of disingenuity or even grey fonts on white backgrounds, making it incredibly and needlessly hard to tell exactly how much you’re paying and how often you’ll be charged said fee.
Another ploy, dubbed “blind sub” by veteran SophosLabs security expert Jagadeesh Chandraiah, involves subscribing users, well, blindly to one or several apps before revealing in any way, shape, or form how much said services will cost at the end of a typically brief trial period.
No subscription fee in sight
As always, the best method to protect yourself from any type of Google Play-installed threat is to carefully browse its user reviews and disregard 5-star ratings that could be easily machine-generated or manipulated in some other way.
If you do end up downloading and subscribing to an Android app that seems to exhibit fleeceware-like behavior, don’t forget to unsubscribe to any sketchy service that might show up on your bank statement with exaggerated weekly, monthly, or yearly charges before actually deleting the malicious titles from your phone.