Minecraft clones stealthily load ads on millions of Android devices

Minecraft clones stealthily load ads on millions of Android devices

Boffins at McAfee have identified 38 Android apps in the Google Play store that unashamedly rip off the ever-popular gaming sensation Minecraft, but are actually designed to stealthily earn advertising revenue.

The apps, which McAfee detects as Android/HiddenAds.BJL, load adverts in the background without the user’s knowledge, and are estimated to have been downloaded some 35 million times onto Android devices.

Because the games were downloaded from the official Google Play app store it’s possible that users, who are quite likely to be young children as that is Minecraft’s typical demographic, would assume that the apps had been properly vetted for inappropriate behaviour.

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And although no adverts are displayed during gameplay, they are being downloaded in the background – gobbling up resources such as bandwidth, battery, and CPU cycles.

Google Play listing for Block Box Master Diamond app
Google Play listing for Block Box Master Diamond app

McAfee’s experts shared a list of the apps it had discovered, the most popular of which (Block Box Master Diamond) had accumulated 10 million downloads just by itself.

  • Block Box Master Diamond
  • Block Box Skyland Sword
  • Block Boy Earth Mini
  • Block City Dragon Sun
  • Block City Fun Diamond
  • Block Crazy Builder City
  • Block Diamond Boy Pro
  • Block Earth Skyland World
  • Block Forrest Tree Crazy
  • Block Fun Rainbow Builder
  • Block Game Skyland Forrest
  • Block Loki Monster Builder
  • Block Lucky Master Earth
  • Block Monster Diamond Dragon
  • Block Pixelart Tree Pro
  • Block Pro Forrest Diamond
  • Block Rainbow Monster Castle
  • Block Rainbow Sword Dragon
  • Block World Tree Monster
  • Craft Boy Clever Sun
  • Craft Castle Sun Rain
  • Craft City Loki Rainbow
  • Craft Clever Monster Castle
  • Craft Dragon Diamond Robo
  • Craft Forrest Mini Fun
  • Craft Game Earth World
  • Craft Loki Forrest Monster
  • Craft Lucky Castle Builder
  • Craft Mini Lucky Fun
  • Craft Monster Crazy Sword
  • Craft Rainbow Mini Builder
  • Craft Rainbow Pro Rain
  • Craft Sword City Pro
  • Craft Sword Mini Fun
  • Craft Sword Vip Pixelart
  • Craft World Fun Robo
  • Craftsman: Building City 2022
  • Lokicraft: Forrest Survival 3D

McAfee researchers contacted Google Play, which has since removed the offending apps from its store. But considering Google had to be told about these apps, one has to wonder how many other similar apps that break the Android app store’s rules continue to lurk unnoticed.

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Graham Cluley is a veteran of the cybersecurity industry, having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s when he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows. Now an independent analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and is an international public speaker on the topic of cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

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