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Wednesday, 05 June 2019 10:36

Obfuscated ad plugin found in 238 apps on Google Play Store

Obfuscated ad plugin found in 238 apps on Google Play Store Image by 200 Degrees from Pixabay

Security firm Lookout has found what it describes as a "well-obfuscated advertising plugin" that renders a device nearly unusable nestling within a number of Android applications on the Google Play store.

In a blog post, Lookout security intelligence engineer Kristina Balaam said the plugin, which had been named BeiTaAd, forcibly displayed ads on the locked screen of a device, triggered video and audio ads even while the phone was asleep and brought up out-of-app ads that got in the way of an individual interacting with other applications.

Lookout found this plugin in 238 separate apps and reported the matter to Google which had now removed the plugin from all affected apps, Balaam said.

"Cumulatively, these applications amount to more than 440 million installations, making this family unique in its prevalence and the level of obfuscation used to hide the plugin’s existence," she said.

"While the vast majority of free mobile applications monetise their apps through Ad SDKs or plugins, the persistence of the advertisements in this particular family and the lengths to which the developer went to hide its existence make the BeiTa plugin concerning."

All the apps which had the plugin were from the mobile Internet firm CooTex which is based in Shanghai. The company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and its best-known app is the keyboard app TouchPal.

"The BeiTaPlugin package, com.cootek.beita.plugin, is unsurprisingly bundled within TouchPal as well as numerous add-ons to their popular TouchPal keyboard, and several very popular health and fitness apps," Balaam said.


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.



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