Google bans 40 apps in biggest Android Store fraud case to date

Google recently eliminated over 40 mobile apps from its Play Store following a report by Check Point researchers who discovered malware hidden within these apps. Dubbed ‘Judy’, the malware was of the auto-clicking kind and was used to infect devices to create fraudulent clicks on ads to generate revenue. The apps reached between 4.5 million and 18.5 million downloads.

According to Check Point, the malicious apps had been developed by South Korean firm Kiniwini, registered as ENISTUDIO corp. on the Play Store. A malware code was then added secretly post-install of the app to make it non-detectable to Google’s Bouncer security scanner.

The software security firm estimates that around $300,000 were generated per month for the developer from the fraudulent activity.

App advertising fraud has been a growing issue as the market is becoming more saturated and more sophisticated fraudulent technologies are being created. According to ClicksMob research, gaming apps claimed 39% of the total fraud attempts as measured by the company’s Fraud Fighter technology.

According to a forecast by The&Partnership and m/SIX, ad fraud could amount to a $16.7 billion loss this year. Nearly 20% of total digital ad spending was wasted on fraudulent placements in 2016.

The case identified by Check Point highlights the growing sophistication of app fraudsters. Despite Google’s security measures, Judy was capable of bypassing them by only loading the software once apps had been installed on a device. The fact that the apps went undetected for an entire year is perhaps even more worrisome.

Johnny Hornby, Founder, The&Partnership, explains that in order to stop app ad fraud, Google and Facebook will need to be fully on board:

“Finally, the time has come for the Googles and Facebooks to stop marking their own homework, and allow specialist, third-party auditors inside their walled gardens – to verify the viewability, non-human traffic and brand safety scores they send back to clients. Only then will we truly break the back of the ad fraud problem.”