Researchers at security firm Sophos has discovered a new set of Android apps present on the Google Play Store that contain fleeceware. Notably, these apps have been downloaded and installed by over 600 million unsuspecting Android users.
The term ‘Fleeceware’ was first coined in September 2019 by cybersecurity firm Sophos in aftermath of an investigation that led to a new kind of financial fraud on the authentic Google Play Store.
Fleeceware is a new addition to the cybersecurity ecosystem, referring to the exploitation of the trial period mechanism in Android apps which generally is provided before one is charged for the full version from his signed up account.
Normally, users who register for an Android app’s trial period are required to cancel the same manually in order to avoid being charged. However, it’s common among users to simply stop using the app by uninstalling it in case they don’t like it. The action of uninstalling is read by the developers as trial period being canceled and hence it doesn’t result in the due amount being charged from the user account.
The UK based, a cybersecurity company, Sophos told that it identified over two-dozen android apps containing fleeceware, these apps were charging somewhere around $100 and $240 per year for apps as basic and mainstream as barcode readers, calculators, and QR scanners.
Suspecting the unusually high number of downloads on these apps, analyst Jagadeesh Chandraiah says, it’s likely that these apps have resorted to third-party pay-per-install services to raise up the download counts. He also suspects the five-star reviews being fake and bought in order to better the apps ranking on the Play store and hence lure a large number of users.
Warning the users in their report, Sophos told, “If you have an Android device and use the Google Play Store for apps, you should rigorously avoid installing these types of “free trial” apps that offer subscription-based charges after a short trial.”
“If you do happen to have a free trial, make sure you understand that merely uninstalling the app does not cancel the trial period. Some publishers require you to send a specific email or follow other complicated instructions to end the free trial before you are charged, though you might just need to log into your Google Pay to cancel. Keep copies of all correspondence with the publisher, and be prepared to share that with Google if you end up disputing the charges.” the report further read.