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Scylla: Ad Fraud Scheme in 85 Apps with 13 Million Downloads

Security researchers exposes 85 apps involved in ad fraud campaign, more than 13 million downloads.

 

Security researchers have exposed 85 apps involved in the ongoing ad frauds campaign that began in 2019. 75 apps of these apps are on Google Play, while 10 are present on the App store. The apps have collectively more than 13 million downloads to date. 
 
Researchers from HUMAN’s Satori Threat Intelligence have collectively named all the mobile apps that are being identified in the ad fraud campaign as ‘Scylla’.  
 
The malicious apps flooded the mobiles with advertisements, both visible and hidden ads. Additionally, the fraudulent apps garnered revenue by impersonating as legitimate apps in app stores. Although these apps are not seen as severe threats to the users, the adware operators can use them for more malicious activities.  
 
According to the researchers, Scylla is believed to be the third wave of an ad fraud campaign that came to light in August 2019, termed ‘Poseidon’. The second wave, called ‘Charybdis’ led up to the end of 2020. 

The original operation, Poseidon comprised over 40 fraudulent android apps, designed to display out-of-context ads or even ads hidden from the view of mobile users. 
 
The second wave, Charybdis, was a more sophisticated version of Poseidon, targeting advertising platforms via code obfuscation tactics. Scylla apps, on the other hand, expand beyond Android, to charge against the iOS ecosystem. In addition to this, Scylla relies on additional layers of code obfuscation, using Allatori Java obfuscator, making it hard for the researchers to detect or reverse engineer the adware. 
 
These fraudulent apps are engineered to commit numerous kinds of ad frauds, including mimicking popular apps (such as streaming services) to trick advertising SDKs into placing their ads, displaying out-of-context and hidden ads, generating clicks from the unaware users, and generating profit off ads to the operator. 
 
"In layman's terms, the threat actors code their apps to pretend to be other apps for advertising purposes, often because the app they're pretending to be is worth more to an advertiser than the app would be by itself," states HUMAN security. 
 
According to the sources, the researchers have informed Google and Apple about these fraudulent apps, following which the apps are being removed from Google Play and App Store. Users are recommended to simply remove the apps if they have downloaded one of the suspected adware by any chance. 
  
Furthermore, with regards to the increasing frauds, the Satori researchers have suggested certain precautionary measures that could be taken into account for the user to not fall for the adware frauds. It includes examining their apps before downloading them, looking out for apps that you do not remember downloading, and avoiding third-party app stores that could harbor malicious applications.
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