Repackaged Android Clones: Apps Serve Ads and Invade Privacy

20 Nov 2013
by Reggie Pierce
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Repackaged Android Clones: Apps Serve Ads and Invade Privacy

Can you tell the difference between a real app and a knock-off?

Sometimes this is easy, but with the ever-increasing proliferation of unlicensed apps, it is becoming more and more difficult. According to a new study from BitDefender, some fakes are even more challenging to spot than you might think. Out of 420,646 apps surveyed on the Google Play app store, BitDefender estimates that 1.2% have been directly copied – essentially stolen – from legitimate developers. In this case, a direct copy is an app that shares over 90% of its code with another app.

Rogue developers are able to download a popular app, reverse engineer its code, add their own code to serve advertisements to users, and then release their version into the Google Play store. These copied versions are usually free, which attracts downloads from users who would rather not pay for the official version, and since 90% of the code is identical, the ads may be the only noticeable difference.

Rogue developers can make significant amounts of money from advertisements, but that is not their only potential source of revenue from copied apps. Often they will add permissions to the app, allowing it to collect personal information from the users such as phone numbers, photos, and the ability to track users via GPS. Most smartphone users accept permissions like this without even reading them, much like the lengthy “Terms and Conditions” sections of desktop programs. Then again, users do not have much reason to be cautious, since they are unaware that the app they just downloaded was made by an imposter. Once an app with invasive permissions is installed, the rogue developer can sell your personal information to marketers, and uninstalling the app cannot get your information back.

Consumers need to be aware that rogue developers may be knocking off popular apps, and use caution when downloading free apps. As long as Google continues with their open app store policies, developers will continue to knock-off legitimate apps. Brand owners need to monitor for these unauthorized apps to protect their brand’s reputation and provide a positive experience for their customers. IP Lasso provides low cost monitoring solutions to assist in detecting and removing infringing apps.

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