Google recently kicked out 13 malicious apps from its official Play Store after a security researcher demonstrated that the apps had zero functionality and installed malware into victims’ devices once launched.
According to researcher Lukas Sefanko, all thirteen driving-simulation apps on the Google Play Store enjoyed over 560,000 downloads in total and two of them, in fact, featured in the Trending section on the Play Store.
The apps, which are no longer present in the Play Store, were Truck Cargo Simulator, Extreme Car Driving, City Traffic Moto Racing, Moto Cross Extreme, Hyper Car Driving Simulator, Extreme Car Driving, FireFighter – Fire Truck Simulator, Car Driving Simulator, Extreme Sport Car, SUV 4×4 Driving Simulator, Luxury Cars SUV Simulator, Luxury Car Parking and SUV City Climb Parking.
Once downloaded and launched, the apps prompted users to install an additional .APK file dubbed Game Center, following which the apps hid themselves and displayed advertisements whenever the devices were unlocked.
At the time of installation, the apps also requested certain privileges such as full network access, access to network connections and access to Wi-Fi connections.
Malicious apps evaded detection by Google
Last year, Google introduced Google Play Protect, a malware-tracking software that, it said, would scan apps and devices for harmful behaviour and notify users if any security risks are found.
“All Google Play apps go through a rigorous security analysis even before they’re published on the Play Store—and Play Protect warns you about bad apps that are downloaded from other sources too. Play Protect watches out for any app that might step out of line on your device, keeping you and every other Android user safe,” noted Google in a blog post.
Since the thirteen apps did not contain malware themselves but asked users to download a malware-ridden APK file from an external source, they could possibly have evaded Google’s detection mechanisms when they were admitted to the Play Store.