Around two weeks ago, a massive ransomware epidemic known as WannaCry spread all over the internet, forcing large companies and even hospitals to shut down some of their systems. Since it was designed to act as a worm—that is to spread automatically—it quickly hit more than 230,000 victims in 150 countries, grabbing headlines all over the world.
The WannaCry epidemic, at least for now, has been slowed down to a halt, but that doesn't mean some enterprising scammers can't make a buck out of the media attention and ensuing panic. In the last few days, scammers are peddling anti-WannaCry apps for Android—even though WannaCry only infects Windows systems.
Most of these apps appear to be innocuous: they are simple guides, or pranks. But according to the security company McAfee, which spotted these apps and looked into them on Tuesday, others are more malicious.
For example, an app called "WannaCry Ransomware Protection" claims to be an anti-virus that can protect Android phones from the ransomware strain. In reality, all the app's features "are fake," as McAfee's researcher Fernando Ruiz wrote, and what it actually does is to display ads and request the user to install even more sponsored apps. In other words, they are adware, software designed to display unwanted and often invasive ads.
As Ruiz wrote, "it is clear the developers put little time into this." So little, in fact, that the app labels itself as a "medium risk" app when it scans the phone it was installed on. We reached out to the developers of the app hoping they can tell us how this app protects Android phones against WannaCry given that WannaCry only works on Windows and will update if we hear back.
Of course, scammers trying to ride the wave of famous malware, and the fear of users who are not too tech savvy, isn't anything new. And neither are malicious apps on Android's Play Store, or fake apps that follow popular trends. But it's a good reminder for users to be very skeptical of new apps, and a good reminder for Google to step up its game when it comes to policing the Android Play Store.
After the publication of this story, a Google spokesperson told Motherboard that the company "has reviewed and taken action on policy-violating apps."
This story has been updated to include Google's response.
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