600,000 Minecraft players duped into installing scareware

22 May 2015

Scammers are targeting one of the most popular computer games on the planet, Minecraft, with the news that 600,000 players on Android have downloaded harmful scareware through the Google Play Store.

The discovery was made by online security firm Eset, which found that on the Google Store there are more than 30 apps that use banner advertising to scare the user into installing bogus anti-virus software that actually uploads malware, known as scareware, to the user’s device.

The 30-plus apps have managed to bypass Google’s normally efficient screening program Bouncer over the course of the past nine months under the guise of offering cheats for Minecraft.

According to Eset, none of the apps actually had any functionality as they advertised, and they then prompted the person to believe they had a virus on their phone.

Google Play Store Minecraft apps

Image via Eset

If the person clicked the link and activated the ‘anti-virus’ they would be charged €4.80 by SMS weekly.

Based off Google Play Store data, 33 scareware applications have now been downloaded between 660,000 and 2.8m times by unsuspecting Minecraft fanatics.

From their research, however, they believe all of these Minecraft apps may have been orchestrated by one person.

“All of the identified scareware apps behaved in a similar way, the only differences being in the names and icons of the applications,” said Eset’s blog. “They were uploaded to the Play store by different developer accounts, but we assume that these were all created by one person.”

On the grander scheme of things, the Eset researchers don’t think it ranks as highly as other Android malware, such as Android/Simplelocker, but has issued caution to users from going anywhere near viruses that don’t come from official sources, which in this case is Mojang Studios.

Warning message displayed by scareware

Warning message displayed by scareware. Image via Eset

Image of Minecraft worldscape via Mike Prosser/Flickr

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic