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A group of hackers managed to infect a million cell phones Android with malware that was disguised as a fraudulent ad running on smart TVs. The fraud was described as one of the most sophisticated of its kind and was intended to divert funds to malicious developers.

The scam has been applied since at least 2019 and was revealed on March 14 of this year by fraud researchers from the company Human. Experts found that 29 Android apps - most of which were offered on-site Play Store - made the devices look like smart TVs. 

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Estimates show that infected smartphones served around 650 million ad requests per day. As a result, developers received payments from advertising providers, who were led to believe that the views were real. 

At first glance, the applications looked benign, but included a “software development kit” that created the fake ad previews. The kits provided tools for the creators to put the apps online, even if they contained a code that was not verified in relation to security, as was the case in this specific scam. 

Infected apps

Among the infected apps was a game with more than 100 downloads. Credits: Shutterstock
Among the infected apps was a game with more than 100 downloads.
Credits: Shutterstock

Among the fraudulent applications were Any Light, a flashlight app that allowed users to choose the colors of the light and had more than 10 downloads. Another app was the Sling Puck 3D Challenge, a simple challenge game that had more than 100 downloads. 

“The operators behind the operations took advantage of the pandemic-accelerated recent shift to digital, hiding in the crowd to deceive advertisers and technology platforms by making them believe that the ads were being displayed on consumer streaming devices” , Human CEO Tamer Hassan told the Forbes

These hackers, in particular, were smart to have managed to create very realistic pingbacks and to verify that the devices were streaming TV and connected to avoid detection by security mechanisms. 

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