Tens of thousands of dangerous Android apps are putting mobile users at heightened risk of fraud and cyberattack, a report has claimed. 

Mobile security firm Upstream identified over 29,000 malicious Android apps in active use during Q1 2020, double the number logged in the same quarter last year (just over 14,500).

The investigation also showed that almost all (90%) of the ten most malicious apps were – or are still – present on the official Google Play Store. This suggests, according to Upstream, that hackers consistently found ways to dance their way through Google’s vetting system.

In line with this trend, this time period also saw a 55% rise in fraudulent transactions on Android platforms, as well as a spike in the number of malware-infected devices.

Malicious Android apps

The dramatic rise in the number of malicious Android apps in circulation has been put down to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the way users consume content and utilise mobile platforms.

According to Geoffrey Cleaves, who leads Upstream’s anti-fraud offering, the rise in dangerous apps correlates directly with the introduction of coronavirus lockdown measures.

“With the majority of the world having shifted indoors, there were some darker forces acting to make a profit from the lockdown situation,” he explained.

“We’ve seen a sharp increase in bad actors publishing ‘leisure’ apps on the Google Play Store, which trick users into subscribing for premium services.”

The firm claims six of the top ten most dangerous apps of the quarter fall under “leisure” – a broad category that includes video and audio, news media, games and social apps. Hackers and fraudsters, it seems, pounced on the opportunity presented by a renewed appetite for ways to pass the time and connect with friends.

The most potent Android app of the quarter was Snaptube, which allows users to download video content to their devices and has been installed more than 40 million times worldwide.

Upstream published a report on the threat posed by Snaptube in October 2019, but the app remains available via a number of third party Android app stores to this day.

Although some dangerous apps make their way onto Google Play Store, Android users are still advised to refrain from downloading software via third party app stores, which likely subject app submissions to a lower level of scrutiny.

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