Security Experts:

Fake Minecraft Cheats Hosted on Google Play Hide Android Scareware

Android users have downloaded scareware disguised as cheats for the popular game Minecraft from Google Play hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of times, researchers at ESET reported.

The security firm says it has identified a total of 33 bogus Minecraft applications that hide a piece of scareware (Android/FakeApp.AL). The deceptive apps are designed to trick users into thinking that their devices are infected with viruses that can only be removed if they subscribe via SMS to a premium service. In this case, signing up for the service costs victims more than $5 per week.

“All of the identified scareware apps behaved in a similar way, the only differences being in the names and icons of the applications. They were uploaded to the Play store by different developer accounts, but we assume that these were all created by one person,” ESET’s Lukas Stefanko explained in a blog post.

According to ESET, the fake Minecraft apps were uploaded to Google Play starting with August 2014. Despite getting low ratings and negative comments, the 33 applications were downloaded between 660.000 and 2.800.000 times from Google’s official app market before being removed by the search giant.

“The damage that this recent Android malware discovery can inflict is perhaps less acute when compared to the file-encrypting Android/Simplocker but the seriousness of this threat lies in the fact that it may have been downloaded by almost three million users from the official Google Play store,” Stefanko said.

Google reported last month that the overall rate of potentially harmful application installs decreased by almost 50 percent between the first and last quarters of 2014. However, Android users need to be on the lookout since they’re constantly targeted by cybercriminals.

Bitdefender today reported seeing a new wave of FBI ransomware targeted at Android users. Malicious actors have sent out more than 15,000 spam emails over the past three days in an effort to distribute a piece of ransomware (Android.Trojan.SLocker.DZ) that locks smartphones. Victims are instructed to pay $500 via MoneyPak and PayPal My Cash transfers to restore their devices.

Bitdefender says Android.Trojan.SLocker.DZ is one of the most prevalent Android ransomware families. The security firm noted that its internal telemetry shows multiple versions of this malware family distributed via spam messages coming from .edu, .com, .net and .org domain servers.

Related: Flawed Android Factory Reset Allows Recovery of Sensitive Data

Related: Google Pulls Android Apps Infected With Adware From Google Play

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.