How to recognize fake apps
A fake version of the WhatsApp instant messaging app has been downloaded more than a million times from the Google Play Store. As a result, the app has now been withdrawn from the store. This copy of WhatsApp was ‘adware’, i.e. a program designed to display targeted advertising.
This means that despite their strict terms of business, official outlets such as the Play Store may contain fake apps, which in reality are malicious programs, or ‘malware’. So, to protect your device and your data, make regular backup copies of your stuff – and be careful about what you download.
What should you be looking out for?
The fraudsters who design fake apps do everything they can to make their product look as much like the original as possible. So it is not always easy to spot these fake copies for what they are. Nevertheless, here are a few tips that may help you identify them:
- Check the developer’s website. As the example of WhatsApp demonstrates, the most popular apps are mimicked down to the finest details – from their name and logo, right through to the name of the developer. So, above all, always check the developer’s website by clicking on the web link shown on the page for the app on the store.
- Watch out for false updates and “guides”. Many apps are presented as manuals, for example for popular games. Unfortunately, there are fake apps lurking among these guides, just waiting to pounce. When you download them, they generate malicious ads or malware. The same thing applies to apps that claim to provide updates for other apps that already exist. Remember that an app will always offer you updates from within the program itself. Which means you will never need a separate app.
- Read the reviews left by other users. These comments will often give you a clue about a fake app: “doesn’t work”, “won’t open”, “the update jams”, etc. So it’s always worth taking the trouble to see what other people say. However, these reviews do not provide a guarantee: there are some websites out there that give positive comments in return for payment.
- Check the publication date. An app that is well known and has been available for some time should display the date of a recent update, rather than a recent release date. Also, if the app is not updated regularly or if the most recent version dates back several months, then there’s something fishy.
What happens if I come across a fake app?
You can report fake apps: at both the Google Play Store and the Windows Store you can tag them directly as being inappropriate. And for the App Store, you can lodge your report here.
And if it’s already too late?
If you have downloaded a fake app, delete it as soon as possible. If you find you can’t delete it – or if it contains malware – the best thing to do is restore the default settings on your device.