Here we go again, don’t install trivial apps from random developers because they look fun and have tons of downloads on play store. The latest warning came from the CyberNews research team, exposing “camera apps with billions of downloads [that] could steal user data and infect them with malware.
The team focused on so-called “beauty cams,” you know the drill: flash filters to spice up or add comical filters to selfies before they’re posted and shared. And while users expect “a makeup or cartoon filter,” CyberNews warns, “you don’t expect these apps to harvest and sell your data, infest you with non-stop malicious ads, redirect you to phishing websites or even spy on you.”
But that is exactly what is happening. The team analyzed the top “beauty camera” search results on the Play Store, and didn’t have to dig deep. CyberNews report says BeautyPlus, the number one app with 300 million installs, “has been identified as malware or spyware”, its developer claimed to collect data from servers in China from where it was sold. It would be your data, remember.
As we see so often, most apps come from China. And, again, as we see so often, several were tied to the same network of developers. These common developer roots mean common code sets and methodologies. More apps just means more downloads. More users. More data. More money.
If your suspicions are not triggered by these free apps with countless downloads so far, take a look at the requested permissions. That’s the danger here. These apps will often seek to access your data, contacts, camera, and even your phone. And whatever threat they pose in themselves – maybe just selling your basic data to target you with ads, once those permissions are granted, you’ve left yourself open. Remember that apps like these link to malicious operators and their command and control servers. That means your the device is connected to their.
Beyond fraudulent ads, apps can target users with phishing messages with links to malicious URLs. They can install malware, arrange for the installation of other malware, track your device, and even, in extreme cases, access parts of your device as spyware.
CyberNews investigated the top 30 search results, finding an app that turns on a user’s camera without first asking permission, another app installing malware through its software, even an app accused of “sending users pornographic content, redirecting them to phishing sites or harvesting their photos.The team also found that nearly half of the apps access GPS locations, 23 access device microphones and 29 device cameras of access, which is not surprising for a photo app. 29 of the apps also ask for permission to read user data. Once these permissions are granted, the apps have carte blanche.
As always with such rogue apps, a small number of permissions are actually required to function as advertised. But a host of other authorizations are requested by almost all of them. Let’s face it, these operators do not plug in legitimate software. Even the most benign seek to sell dubious advertisements. You can therefore assume the evil of all.
The full list of 30 apps can be found here and is listed below:
- BeautyPlus – Easy Photo Editor & Selfie Camera
- Beauty Camera – Selfie Camera
- Selfie Camera – Beauty Camera & Photo Editor
- Beauty Camera Plus – Sweet Camera & Makeup Photo
- Beauty Camera – Selfie Camera & Photo Editor
- YouCam Perfect – Best Selfie Camera and Photo Editor
- Sweet Snap – Beauty Selfie Camera & Face Filter
- Sweet Selfie Snap – Sweet Camera & Beauty Cam Snap
- Beauty Camera – Selfie Camera with Photo Editor
- Beauty Camera – Best Selfie Camera & Photo Editor
- B612 – Beauty camera and filter
- Face makeup camera and beauty photo makeup editor
- Sweet Selfie – Selfie Camera & Makeup Photo Editor
- Selfie Camera – Beauty Camera & Makeup Camera
- YouCam Perfect – Best Photo Editor & Selfie Camera
- Beauty Selfie Face Makeup Camera, Photo Editor
- Selfie Camera – Beauty Camera
- Z beauty camera
- HD Camera Selfie Beauty Camera
- Candy Camera – selfie, beauty camera and photo editor
- Makeup Camera-Selfie Beauty Filter Photo Editor
- Beauty Selfie Plus – Sweet Camera Wonder HD Camera
- Selfie Camera – Beauty Camera & AR Stickers
- Pretty makeup, beauty photo editor and selfie camera
- beauty camera
- Bestie – Camera360 Beauty Camera
- Photo Editor – Beauty Camera
- Beauty makeup, selfie camera effects and photo editor
- Selfie cam – Camera and filters Bestie Makeup Beauty
You can check if any of them have been downloaded and, if so, ensure that they are deleted immediately. But here are some simpler tips. If you have installed any type of beauty camera from the Play Store, it might be a good idea to remove it just in case. “There are bigger, more reliable apps that have similar functionality,” CyberNews suggests, apps that are “more accountable and with a clearer ownership structure.”
The team suggests the likes of Messenger, Snapchat, and Instagram. I don’t need to remind you of the problems these apps also have, albeit of a different variety and scale. So the basic advice of being careful about what you download and what permissions you grant is relevant to everything on your device. No easy answers, I’m afraid.