Part of the appeal of “Minecraft” is that the in-game experience is highly customizable with thousands of bits of third-party software. For mobile versions of the game, those “mods” can be downloaded as separate apps. If you pay attention to app-store security, you can probably guess where this is going, especially if you have kids.
More than 20 of the “Minecraft” mods recently available in the Google Play Store didn’t do much for the game at all, and instead displayed ads on smartphones and tablets “in an extremely intrusive manner,” according to researchers at Kaspersky. The cybersecurity company says the store has taken down most of the apps since the researchers reported them, but a handful were still available as of Monday morning.
Kaspersky’s findings are the latest reminder that mobile devices remain attractive targets for nuisance adware. And the makers of those sneaky apps aren’t really worried about customer satisfaction. Their job is to serve up ads as often as possible. In this case, the apps can confuse people because they don’t affect Minecraft at all — the advertisements pop in a web browser instead.
“The sample we examined automatically opened a browser window with ads every two minutes, greatly interfering with normal smartphone use,” Kaspersky says in a blog post.
The mods generally let themselves be opened once and then vanish from a mobile device’s home screen after the user closes them, Kaspersky says.
“Because the ‘modpack’ seemed glitchy from the start, most users, especially kids and teens, won’t waste time looking for it. They may even forget it and not bother trying to remove it,” writes Kaspersky’s Igor Golovin. “Unbeknownst to the user, however, the app remains on the smartphone — and not merely there, but hard at work.”
When it comes to deleting the pesky apps, there’s bad news and good news: The bad news is that you need to find the apps a layer or two down in your Android device’s settings to find them and eradicate them. The good news is that “the misbehaving modpacks get removed entirely with deletion and do not try to restore themselves,” Kaspersky says.
Kaspersky has a few tips for teaching kids how to spot the apps: Bogus “Minecraft” mods often have poorly written descriptions in the app store, as well as “wildly varying ratings and reviews.” The company found that in some cases, the adware apps had a lot of five-star reviews, probably from bots, and a lot of one-star reviews, probably from families who figured out that they had been duped.