Shady ad practices have become a significant source of threats for many mobile devices. Apart from being used as a channel to distribute malware, the attack vector is seeing a potential role in technical support scams using browser locking web pages, and for the propagation of fleeceware apps.

2020 sees a widespread impact

  • A report from Group-IB revealed that classified ads scammers have earned more than $6.5 million in 2020, from buyers in a widespread operation dubbed Classiscam.
  • The scheme, which is ongoing, had begun in early 2019 and initially only targeted buyers on Russian online marketplaces and classified ads portals. 
  • Eventually, the scheme was popular among around 40 cybercriminal gangs who expanded the operation to more than a dozen countries and on many foreign marketplaces and courier services. 
  • The affected brands include Leboncoin, Allegro, OLX, FAN Courier, Sbazar, DHL, among others.

Bulk downloads of malicious apps causes concern

  • Google has struggled with bad apps delivering adware and other malware on Google Play for years.
  • In a fresh event, the tech giant had removed 164 apps from its Google Play marketplace because they were delivering disruptive ads considered malicious.
  • These 164 apps, collectively called CopyCatz, attempted to mimic the functions of other popular apps - and spewed obnoxious ads.

Final words

Malicious ads are an industry-wide challenge that can appear in many different forms with a variety of malicious tactics. It has potential to harm users, advertisers, and publishers. Throwing light on emerging threats, Per Bjorke, senior product manager for Ad Traffic Quality at Google said, “As we move forward, we will continue to invest in new technologies to detect and prevent emerging threats that can generate invalid traffic, including disruptive ads, and to find more ways to adapt and evolve our platform and ecosystem policies to ensure that users and advertisers are protected from bad behavior.”

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