Hey guys, now I really feel it’s imperative I talk to you about an issue which has been growing recently: adware on Android.
Update: I never expected that researching my experience with a dodgy Android game would lead me so far. Throughout this article there are a lot of branching paths. I believe this article is a MUST-READ.
What is adware? Essentialy it’s a piece of software installed onto your device which pops up ads when you are doing pretty much anything. On your homescreen? Bam, an ad! Playing a game? Bam, an ad! Web browsing? That’s another ad! YouTube? Two more ads!! Actually ads on YouTube and the Internet is a normal occurence, but you get what I mean.
Adware causes ads to appear when they shouldn’t. But you might be thinking: what benefit do they get by making ads appear on my device? Good question. And the answer to that is simply money. By making you view ads and acciddentaly clicking one, they generate revenue. If you spread that across millions of infected devices, that can really add up.
Adware alone isn’t a big deal. Get some anti-malware software, detect the root of the problem and fix it from the source. Easy, right? It can also be easy to avoid — don’t download anything that looks obviously fake.
So then why am I posting about it in the first place if it’s so easy to avoid? Well, because adware has become smarter — disguised as our favourite Android games and apps.
Well I guess I should start from the very begginning. I had heard about an online game called Diep.io, which looked like, and was, a very fun game. So naturally I flocked to the play store to check out if there was a mobile version of the game. Lo’ and behold, there were a flurry of games trying to pass off as the original but to my dismay had less than favourable reviews. Finally I found a decent game with decent reviews. It was called Tief Tanks.
I installed it and played it a couple of times, it was clearly unpolished but worked. All was fine until I realised the game had magically dissappeared from the homescreen. Ok…..? I thought maybe I just took it off, so I went into the app drawer and it wasn’t there either. I had no memory of uninstalling it and was genuinely confused.
Well I didn’t mind that it was gone since I didn’t play it often. But that’s when things got weird. Ads appeared often, and at first I thought it might’ve been a part of the apps I launched. Nope. Ads appeared when they shouldn’t have. On the homescreen, on different parts of the system and on the internet; actually, they appeared everywhere. It was clear these ads were different and not normal.
So to determine what was causing them, I waited. And waited. Finally an ad appeared! I hit the multi-tasking button to see what was running, and what do you know — Tief Tanks was open and listed as the app displaying the ad. I went into settings and uninstalled the application, removing it entirely. Now the game is no longer on the Play Store and has been mysteriously removed (I wonder why?).
But that’s not where this ends. Another game called Tanks Online by developer VZaharov seemed to have the exact same problem. I donwloaded it and played it a couple of times and suddenly it vanished! Again! Then the same ads started popping up similar to Tief Tanks. Ok, it was only one game before, but now two? Not only this but they both felt and looked like the same game. I had strong reason to be suspicious.
Ok, that’s it! I’d had enough and wanted answers, so I began to do research. In order to discover the potential identity of the developer I looked up VZaharov (the developer company) and what do you know? Jack shit came up. No developer page or contact details: absolutely nothing.
That must’ve been his name. Ruslan Visaitov. I typed it into Google and after a bunch of unrelated results I found out there was a developer on iTunes who went by the same name. He had made two games and I could easily deduce that he was the same dude who made Tanks Online. The Ruslan Visaitov guy had made a game called Higher Lower which was a mobile adaptation of a popular online game, which directly parallels how VZaharov made Tanks Online, a mobile adaptation of Diep.io. Both had to be the same people: they both were devs for mobile platforms, they both had the exact same name, and they had both adapted a popular online game into a mobile version.
The puzzle pieces were starting to fit together. But, sadly, it didn’t end there.
On Ruslan Visaitov’s iTune’s page there was a link to contact him and get support. Finally, what I’ve been searching for, I thought. However, this only added more fuel to the fire.
The link sent me to a russian developer page called ARgames. ARgames is a sizeable mobile game developer who make decently popular games. So could it be that these people were in cahoots, or, even more mind-blowing, they are the same people?!
This would mean that:
VZaharov = Ruslan Visaitov = ARgames?
Another thing which may be of note is that they are all Russian.
Anyway, in order to ascertain my assumption I checked the reviews of the few games produced by ARgames, and they have the same problem! Adware!!! People complaining in droves about the game randomly uninstalling and frequent ad pop-ups!
Google, what is going on???
One problem has still been staring us right in the face: who is the developer of Tief Tanks and how is he related, if at all?
A quick Google search of the game led me to an apk download which displayed details of the game, including the dev. His name is irfedo, and a google search of his name doesn’t bring up much, although I discovered he has also made the same game on Windows Phone.
I downloaded the Tief Tanks (also called Diep io – Tanks io Online) apk and found that when I opened it I was prompted to update to a different version. I clicked ok and was brought to the Play Store to download the same game called Diep.io Tanks io Online by pingman.
I assumed pingman was irfedo but because irfedo most likely had his account suspended he had to make a different one.
However this still didn’t relate to VZaharov, Ruslan Visaitov or ARgames.
I downloaded the Tanks io Online game by pingman, and what do you know? More adware! Aaaasrfgggtbgkkyw?!
People might be thinking I’m blowing this out of proportion, but when I UNINSTALLED the game it was still showing up the ad pop-ups. That’s right, I uninstalled the game and it was still there! You have to manually uninstall it from the device through the settings. I imagine this could be dangerous for less tech-savvy people who use Android like parents, the elderly, kids etc.
We should not stand for this. Millions and millions of people use their Android device and depend on it, and now we know that the device’s security is compromised via the Play Store.
The Play Store should be a place where everyone should be able to download with the peace of mind that every single app has been meticulously checked and verified by Google themselves.
The Play Store should be a place that rewards the developers who attempt legitimate business, and penalise those who do not.
The Play Store should be a place where we can all download to our heart’s content.
I would also just like to show some of the reviews I found from these games to prove that I’m not the only one going through this:
…yeah, so I rest my case.