Google took action after receiving a report from a group studying apps similar to stalkerware and removed 813 Creepware apps from the Play Store. The group was made up of academics and researchers from NYU, Cornell Tech, and NortonLifeLock. They published a new paper based on their research titled “The Many Kinds of Creepware Used for Interpersonal Attacks”. Moreover, a similar creepware differs from both spyware and stalkerware because these mobile apps lack some of the features used to spy on users. Point to be noted that creepware can still be used to directly or indirectly stalk, harass, defraud, or threaten another person online.
The research team developed an algorithm named CreepRank to identify creepware more effectively. It has the ability to recognize these kinds of apps and assign a creep score to each one. CreepRank has the ability to identify apps with features that can be abused to extract SMS messages from a device, spoof another user’s identity in chats, launch denial-of-service attacks, hide other apps, and track location. The research team ran CreepRank on a sample of anonymized data in order to find creepware apps in the real world. It was provided by NortonLifeLock from devices running Norton Mobile Security, from apps installed on over 50 million Android smartphones. The CreepRank algorithm then calculated a creep score for each app and the researchers ranked these apps to find out which ones could be abused to track or harass users.
The researchers found that 857 are qualified as creepware after analyzing the top 1,000 apps based on their creep score. To make matters worse, the creepware functions took a central role in these apps and some even promoted these features in their marketing. The researchers then applied the CreepRank algorithm to app data sets from 2017, 2018, and 2019 to discover 1,095 creepware apps. Those apps accounted for at least 1 million installs across real-world devices. The research team notified Google about these 1,095 apps last summer. So, the security team of the company took down 813 of them for violating the terms and conditions of the Play Store.