Skip to main content

Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Why trust us?

These 80+ apps could be running adware on your iPhone or Android device

Cybersecurity company Human has uncovered another adware campaign engaging in ad fraud that is targeting iOS and Android devices. In the simplest terms, ad fraud allows a bad actor to either visibly spam an app with ads, or to manipulate the code in such a way that the ads are invisible to the user while the bad actor extracts advertising money from a marketer.

In each iteration, it’s fraudulent. Ad fraud has been widespread in the industry for a while, and the latest investigation uncovered a cache of over 75 Android apps listed in the Google Play Store and nearly a dozen apps on Apple’s App Store that are engaged in various forms of ad fraud.

Representation of risky smartphone apps.
Andy Boxall / DigitalTrends

The bad apps have been collectively downloaded over 13 million times across Google and Apple’s app ecosystems. After being notified by Human, Google and Apple have since expunged the apps from their respective app repositories.

This is the third wave of the same attack, which was first reported in 2019 and was labeled Poseidon. The second wave that raised its head in 2020 was christened Charybdis, while the ongoing attack wave has been bestowed the name Scylla. Over time, the targeting campaign gained the ability to obfuscate the malicious code and SDK-targeting capability.

By the time the Scylla adware campaign raised its head, it could pass itself off as a legitimate game, tricking advertisers into spending more money. The fraud uses hidden ads that are not visible to the users, or just out-of-context apps that randomly pop up on the screen. Gaming the ad view metrics was also observed as a means to register ad clicks and make money.

What’s the safe road ahead?

The most reasonable course of action is to delete the problematic apps, assuming they are already installed on your phone. You can check the entire list of adware-ridden applications on Human’s website. An effective precautionary step is to always install apps from reliable developers and publishers.

Another option is to upgrade to an app’s premium version if the free tier is showing too many shady ads that enable click-through to an even more malicious webpage. App developers don’t always have overreaching control over the ads appearing on their apps.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

We live in an era of continuous web tracking, and targeted ads that are modeled after behavioral patterns are the most invasive. Since advertising companies often rely on breadcrumbs of our online activities, you should clear your browser history, cache, and cookies from time to time.

You can also try specialized adware removal apps, just to be on the safe side. NordVPN offers a fairly robust ad-blocking system. Other reliable options are Adware Cleaner by Pocket Bits, Norton Ad Blocker, TotalAV, and Malwarebytes.

Adware is not a new phenomenon, especially on the Android side of the ecosystem. But despite Apple’s claims of a safe app ecosystem, iPhones aren’t really impervious. Security firm Wandera spotted 17 apps on the App Store in 2019 that were running invisible ads and clocking ghost clicks to generate ad revenue.

In 2018, a Cisco Talos researcher uncovered a highly targeted attack that only affected 13 iPhones in India by weaponizing the MDM server. One of the suspicious outcomes of the attack was random ads appearing on the infected devices. But the malware ecosystem is an ever-evolving landscape. Just over a month ago, the experts at Germany’s Technical University of Darmstadt cooked up a lethal malware that is delivered via Bluetooth and can even infect an iPhone when it’s powered off.

Editors' Recommendations

Nadeem Sarwar
Nadeem is a tech journalist who started reading about cool smartphone tech out of curiosity and soon started writing…
This cool Android phone shows just how boring the iPhone really is
Deep Purple iPhone 14 Pro and Nothing Phone 2 side by side.

Apple’s fall event is just around the corner, and we’re expecting a slate of new products — including the iPhone 15 lineup, the Apple Watch Series 9, and possibly the Apple Watch Ultra 2.

With the iPhone 15, we’re expecting some big changes this year with the Pro models, in particular, including a new titanium frame replacing the stainless steel from previous generations, plus a new Action button instead of a mute toggle. But the overall design of the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro looks to be the same as that of  the iPhone 14 series, which itself looks like the previous two generations before it. In other words, an already aging design isn't going to be changing all that much.

Read more
This $570 Android phone crushes the iPhone 14 Pro in one big way
Honor 90 display.

I find myself unable to use smartphones at night because they strain my eyes, which in turn causes headaches. If you are anything like me, you probably dislike having a smartphone screen in front of you in conditions when light is dim ot nonexistent. Or worse, you might have developed Pulse-Width Modulation (PWM) sensitivity, which can make you feel nauseous when using a phone at night. This is solved by the Honor 90.

I’m privileged to have multiple phones at my disposal, and the Honor 90 has become my go-to phone for nighttime reading and research because of its 3840Hz PWM display. But to understand the solution, we must first understand PWM dimming and its effects on human eyes.
What is PWM dimming, and how does the Honor 90 help?

Read more
What iPhone do I have? How to find out your iPhone model number
Close-up of the iPhone SE 2022 and iPhone 14 Plus camera modules.

Since its landmark introduction in 2007, Apple has released a total of 38 different iPhone models, and with at least four new ones introduced every fall, the company is showing no signs of slowing down.

In all that time, Apple has made relatively few significant design changes. The company tends to stick with established designs for three or four years before changing things up, which can sometimes make it difficult to tell which iPhone model you have —  especially if you're getting a secondhand iPhone (with no box to offer a hint) rather than a new one.

Read more