Watch How Malicious Apps Can Secretly Devour Your Data

By Darren Orf on at

Buying apps through official app stores usually means the app’s been approved by a team of developers whose job is to flag shady behaviour. But when it comes to ad fraud, one research firm says many slip through the cracks—serving hundreds of unseen ads and destroying your battery life and data plan.

Conducted by Forensiq, the study shows that many seemingly legitimate apps actually serve thousands of unseen ads in the background, both defrauding those companies and gobbling up data of unsuspecting smartphone users. This isn’t your normal annoying pop-up ad rate on a browser. These apps invisibly serve 700 ads an hour (that’s 12 a minute!). The study found 12 million devices that were hijacked while observing over a 10-day period.

In many ways, these apps act like botnets that scams users, but where botnets are usually unintentionally installed on desktops, these apps live in trusted app stores. As the video above shows, within 24 hours your smartphone—besides certainly being dead—will also be drained of data. And the solution isn’t as simple as just exiting the app—the ads are served right at device start up, and continue even after the app is closed.

Forensiq estimates that about 1 per cent of mobile smartphone users in the U.S. run at least one app with this ad-serving flaw, and that number increases to 2-3 per cent in European countries. So we’re not talking about an epidemic—but one that could potentially grow with mobile advertising. So check those data caps, don’t download such enthralling games as “Waxing Brows,” and make sure you’re not getting invisibly screwed over by ad overload.