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Google Play Apps Expose Tens of Millions to Adware: Sophos

More than 50 applications distributed via Google Play have exposed tens of millions of Android users to a piece of adware packed inside the apps, Sophos researchers warn.

More than 50 applications distributed via Google Play have exposed tens of millions of Android users to a piece of adware packed inside the apps, Sophos researchers warn.

Dubbed Android XavirAd, the adware library displays annoying ads to affected users, and also collects personal information and sends it to a remote server. Detected as Andr/Infostl-BK, the information-stealing component is believed to have compromised up to 55 million users.

To explain how the malicious code works, the security researchers analyzed an application called Add Text on A Photo. The app displays full screen advertisements at regular intervals, even when it isn’t being used.

When launched, the XavirAd library contacts a remote server to get configuration code. The server sends it the advertisement settings, including full screen ad intervals, and the library saves the information in shared preferences. The domain used for this is api-restlet.com, which appears to have been registered a year and a half ago and which has its origins in Vietnam, the security researchers reveal.

The program then downloads another .dex file from cloud.api-restlet.com, meant to collect various information from the user’s phone: the email address for the Google account, list of installed apps, IMEI identifier and android_id, screen resolution, SIM operator, app installation source, and device manufacturer, model, brand, and OS version. The collected data is encrypted and sent to a web address.

To add insult to injury, the application states in its privacy policy that it does not collect any personal information from the user’s device.

Sophos’ researchers also discovered that the XavirAd library tries to hide itself from security inspection. It uses encrypted strings, the class constructor contains a different decryption routine for each class, and keys are different in each class, although the algorithm remains the same.

Additionally, the malicious code includes anti-sandbox technology to hide itself from dynamic analysis. The adware first checks the emulator, then a series of strings for the emulator, and stops its malicious behavior if it detects it is running in a testing environment. Additionally, it checks the user’s email address for specific strings, as an additional layer of protection.

The list of Google Play apps found to contain the XavirAd library is available on Sophos’ blog. Users are advised to avoid them.

Related: Fake Netflix App Takes Control of Android Devices

Related: App-in-the-Middle Attacks Bypass Android Sandbox: Skycure

Written By

Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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