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August 25, 2015

'Invisible ads' destroy battery life and use mobile data

Reacting to the security threats we can see is hard enough, but dealing with the ones we cannot presents a bigger challenge. This is the reality for millions of smartphone owners who have invisible apps interacting with invisible ads on their mobile devices.

Smartphone owners could be seeing their battery power plummet and data usage rocket – thanks to fraudsters running invisible ads.

According to online ad fraud detectors Forensiq, legitimate-looking applications are being utilised to “show” users a rapid succession of invisible apps. Then, human behaviour is emulated to make it appear as though they have interacted with the software themselves. The fraudsters can reap huge volumes of ad revenue from this, even though smartphone users have no idea – except for the fact that it eats up huge volumes of their data allowance and can ruin battery life.

To make matters worse, these invisible apps could be running continually, meaning they usurp power all the time – not just when the legitimate-looking app is running.

Fraudulent apps siphon off millions of pounds

Forensiq claimed that around 700 invisible ads are loaded onto each hijacked device every hour. This could waste up to 2GB of data per day. It’s not only users that lose out but legitimate advertisers as well. Some of those named by Forensiq as fraud victims include Amazon, Coca-Cola, Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft and Unilever. With more than $100 billion (£64.5bn) expected to be spent on mobile advertising during 2016, there’s potential for millions to be siphoned off to fraudulent apps.

Despite Apple being known for manufacturing one of the most secure smartphones on the market, Forensiq found that iOS devices were at risk, as were those running Android and Windows. It’s thought some 12 million devices around the world could be affected by these apps – making for trillions of fraudulent ad impressions.

To undertake its test, Forensiq identified potentially fraudulent apps before downloading them onto otherwise clean devices from official marketplaces. As such, it could be guaranteed that this activity didn’t come from suspect locations but apps being offered on the actual Apple, Google or Windows marketplaces.