DODGY apps claiming to protect people's phones from cybercrime have actually been caught doing the dirty themselves.
Experts have exposed six apps masquerading as do-gooding antivirus tools.
But in reality, the software was spreading banking malware designed to help hackers steal passwords and get into accounts.
The dubious apps were downloaded more than 11,000 times, according to Check Point Research who uncovered the scam.
More than a third of victims are believed to be from the UK and the rest have been mostly traced back to Italy.
For the most part, they were found on Android.
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Google has since removed the bunch, but that doesn't protect anyone who's already downloaded them.
The six apps are:
- Atom Clean-Booster, Antivirus
- Antivirus, Super Cleaner
- Alpha Antivirus, Cleaner
- Powerful Cleaner, Antivirus
- Center Security – Antivirus (available in two versions)
If you have them installed on your phone, you should remove the apps immediately and consider changing your passwords.
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Malware called Sharkbot was found lurking under the bonnet of the apps.
It's a banking trojan known for luring victims into entering their login details in spoofed popups.
The precious data is then secretly sent off to hackers who can then access everything including emails, social media and banking accounts.
Hackers 'speak Russian'
Experts assume the perpetrators speak Russian from their investigation.
Adding to suspicion, they noticed the apps were programmed not to work against anyone located in China, India, Romania, Russia, Ukraine or Belarus.
But, they said they don't have enough evidence to point the finger at who exactly is behind it.
"Looking at the install count we can assume that the threat actor hit the bulls-eye for their method of malware spread," said Alexander Chailytko, a cyber security at Check Point Software.
"The threat actor strategically chose a location of applications on Google Play that have users’ trust.
"What’s also noteworthy here is that the threat actors push messages to victims containing malicious links, which leads to widespread adoption.
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"All in all, the use of push-messages by the threat actors requesting an answer from users is an unusual spreading technique.
"I think it’s important for all Android users to know that they should think twice before downloading any antivirus solution from the Play Store."
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