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Fake Android Apps: Finding Them Before They Find You

Published: March 13, 2020 on our newsletter Security Fraud News & Alerts Newsletter.


It’s an app-loving world out there, with each smartphone having an average of 60-90 apps. At the end of last year, the number of apps available on Google Play Store topped 2.5 million. But as we know by now, with immense popularity comes cybercriminals looking to take advantage of a good thing. Fake apps are a big problem, especially when they contain malware that steals data and identities, installs adware, and infects a device without our knowledge. The average smartphone user spends 2 hours and 15 minutes a day using apps of all kinds. That means the ability to spot fake apps before downloading them is a skill every user should have. Fortunately, there are simple precautions to help keep infected apps where they belong: Not on your device.


Only get apps from official app stores


The Play Store and Apple App Stores do their best to ferret-out infected apps before making them available. Unfortunately, finding and removing bad apps sometimes happens only after millions download them. Going to unofficial locations or third-party vendors, called “sideloading,” is very risky since they are less diligent at scanning the apps for malware.


Do your homework on apps


Users post their experiences with apps that are good, bad, and everywhere in between. It can be a huge heads-up for questionable and infected apps before they’re purchased and downloaded. Also, checking the number of app downloads can be another clue. Popular and legitimate apps have high download numbers while any app having 5,000 downloads or less could mean it’s not authentic.


Always verify apps


There are a few ways apps can be verified. First, when searching for an app on the app store, other apps can show up in the search, sometimes with the same or similar name. Carefully check the spelling for the app name and description and the developer name. Hackers love to create malware apps that closely mirror the original, hoping to catch us off-guard. Also, look for tags in the app description like “Top Developer” and “Editor’s Choice.” If you’re still not convinced an app is for real, check out the publisher’s official website before you decide.

Pay close attention to app permissions


Fake apps love to access and steal any data they can. As a result, pop-up permission windows can be fast and furious during download. Common sense comes into play here when an app asks to access contacts, cameras, and other sensitive data, do you really need or want to approve it? Remember, if a permission request has nothing to do with the app’s function, don’t grant it. It’s a big sign the app may want to steal your info or is not legitimate.


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