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A tip from a child helped security researchers discover an aggressive scam and adware campaign on both iOS and Android that was being promoted on TikTok and Instagram.
Researchers from Avast Security discovered the malicious apps when a girl found a TikTok profile that appeared to be promoting an abusive app and reported it. The apps had been downloaded a combined 2.4 million times on the App Store and Google Play.
The apps posed as platforms for entertainment, music downloads, or wallpapers. They served intrusive ads, even when they weren't open in the foreground. And according to the report from Avast, they also used sly tactics to prevent users from uninstalling them.
Avast classified the apps as HiddenAds trojans. The trojan "that disguises itself as a safe and useful application but instead serves intrusive ads outside of the app, and hides the original app icon making it difficult for users to identify where the ads are being served from." Some of them also charged high prices for a download, between $5 to $10.
Many of the fraudulent apps were being promoted by a handful of TikTok and Instagram users, one of which had more than 300,000 followers. According to data from analytics firm SensorTower, the campaign netted more than $500,000 for the person or people behind the scam.
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