Thousands of smartphone apps guilty of sophisticated ad fraud

AppOnline ad fraud detection company Forensiq says it has uncovered evidence that iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices are being targeted by fraudsters, earning vast amounts of money through invisible ads that are feasting on your data plan and using up your battery.

According to the firm, legitimate-looking apps are stealing revenue by showing a rapid succession of invisible apps, and emulating human behaviour to make it look as though the phone owner interacted with them.

“These apps run constantly, even when not actively in use, serving thousands of invisible ads every day on a single device.”

A neat video from Forensiq explains that it spotted the non-human ad traffic and investigated what was going on:

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According to a report issued by Forensiq, mobile advertisers are losing 13% of their ad spend to mobile device hijacking. And they claim that, on average, 700 invisible ads are loaded on a single hijacked device every hour, wasting up to 2GB of data each day.

While the app is running, invisible ads are being secretly run
While the app is running, invisible ads are being secretly run

Check out the full report by visiting the Forensiq website.

You have to fill in a form to download the Forensiq report. Unfortunately the form assumes that you have a US phone number, so you will have to be creative if you want to be sent a download link to their study.

Hopefully Forensiq will forgive me for fraudulently filling out their form – but it just wouldn’t accept my British phone number… ho hum.

Hat-tip: Business Insider via reader David L.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

3 comments on “Thousands of smartphone apps guilty of sophisticated ad fraud”

  1. Joey Lee

    This is a good find, but I think the bigger issue for me is the method by which Hacking Team bypassed the Play Store entirely.

  2. Mira Manga

    So how can I tell if there are invisible hacking apps on my phone!?x

    1. David L · in reply to Mira Manga


      Your battery and data usage will take a big hit. The study is only ten small pages and worth a read.

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