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Google removes 8 fake cryptocurrency mining apps after cybersecurity firm exposes them as malware

Duping users, the apps promised them better mining capabilities and revenue by inviting friends while one app which posed as a cloud mining application turned out to be just a game. 

As many as eight apps masquerading as cryptocurrency mining apps went offline on Google Play Store after a report by Trend Micro, a cyber security research firm, identified them as malware run by hackers. The report, which was submitted to Google, stated that these apps tricked victims into watching ads, paying for subscription services with an average monthly fee of $15, and paying for increased mining capabilities without getting anything in return.

Cryptocurrency has seen a surge in adoption ever since the pandemic began last year with Bitcoin surging over more than 400 percent. People are keen to learn about various activities associated with the crypto ecosystem. It is what cybercriminals prey upon given the complicated nature of cryptocurrency coupled with a lack of awareness among people. The decentralised nature of crypto has made it difficult for governments to put in place regulations leaving the space ripe for scams to flourish without consequences.   

Findings of the Trend Micro report

Apps identified

The apps were detected by Trend Micro as AndroidOS_FakeMinerPay and AndroidOS_FakeMinerAd. They promised users cryptocurrency after they made an investment in a cloud-mining operation. It is not yet known how much money these apps made from unsuspecting users. 

The fake apps enlisted by Trend Micro are as follows:

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  • BitFunds – Crypto Cloud Mining
  • Bitcoin Miner – Cloud Mining
  • Bitcoin (BTC) – Pool Mining Cloud Wallet
  • Crypto Holic – Bitcoin Cloud Mining
  • Daily Bitcoin Rewards – Cloud Based Mining System
  • Bitcoin 2021
  • MineBit Pro – Crypto Cloud Mining & btc miner
  • Ethereum (ETH) – Pool Mining Cloud

It reported that two of these were paid apps— Crypto Holic costs $12.99 while Daily Bitcoin Rewards costs $5.99.

No crypto mining ability

  • Some apps dupe users into paying for increased cryptocurrency-mining capabilities through their in-app billing systems that range from US$14.99 to as high as $189.99 despite having no association with cloud-mining operations. 
  • Daily Bitcoin Rewards – Cloud Based Mining System apps nudge their users to upgrade their crypto mining capacity by “buying” their favorite mining machines to earn more coins at a faster rate.
  • The report added that a search of keywords “cloud mining” on Google Play resulted in numerous applications of the same type and some of them had been downloaded more than 100,000 times.
  • More than 120 fake cryptocurrency mining apps are still available online according to Trend Micro Mobile App Reputation Service (MARS) data.
  • Such apps do not have cryptocurrency mining capabilities and deceive users into watching in-app ads with more than 4,500 users affected globally from July 2020 to July 2021.

Posing as a game

Trend Micro said that some of these apps were listed under the Play Store’s finance category. They described themselves as cloud mining applications on their display pages.

But after a review by a team of researchers, one of these apps’ terms of use stated that the app was merely a game that does not have any cryptocurrency-mining functionality, clearing it of any obligation to issue cryptocurrency payments to its users. There is no guarantee of a return for any virtual goods and features purchased in the app.

Dodgy ad clicks

The investigation said that some apps prompted users to click on ads instead of needling them to pay for increased computing power. 

Some of the attributes of such apps laid down by the report were: 

  • Interfaces are flooded with ads.
  • Users are prompted to click on ads to prove that users are not robots.
  • They are informed that they can start mining after viewing video ads within the app.
  • They are told to watch in-app video ads to increase mining speed.

No support for cryptocurrency withdrawals

  • The report also disclosed that users do not get any revenue for browsing in-app ads.
  • They are prompted to invite several friends to download the app to unlock the withdrawal interface.
  • The app is always in a waiting state so the withdrawal interface is never unlocked. 

Here are some of the biggest crypto scams in history

The crypto ecosystem has been rife with scams due to a lack of regulations. There have been several pump-and-dump schemes, NFT scams, malware, fake ICOs, among others, responsible for siphoning off billions of dollars to date. Here are some of the few: 

Bitconnect: The biggest example of an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) scam is Bitconnect. It turned out to be a Ponzi scheme that cost investors $3.45 billion.

AfriCrypt: A cryptocurrency investment firm based in South Africa was accused of defrauding investors of about 69,000 Bitcoin, approximately worth $3.6 billion. It all started when the local firm shut down its operations after telling investors that the funds were stolen by hackers.

One Coin: One Coin was founded in 2015 by Dr. Ruja Ignatova. Dr. Ruja claimed One Coin to be better than Bitcoin. In fact, One Coin had no underlying technology, there was no blockchain. It was later found to be a $4 billion Ponzi scheme.

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Poly Network: A hacker stole $600 million in one of the biggest cryptocurrency thefts ever. The group exploited a vulnerability in Poly Network in the way it executed smart contracts. They returned some of the money later. 

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