Google removed 13 games from the Play Store for containing malware

pixel 3 xl google play storeAntonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

  • Google has removed several games from its Play Store for containing malware. 
  • The games, which were all driving simulators, required users to download an extra app that could then gain full network access to a user’s device. 
  • If you’ve downloaded one of the apps, your best bet is to factory reset your device after backing up your photos, text messages, and anything else you want to keep.

Several games in the Google Play Store have been removed by Google for containing malware — software that can potentially harm your device, access sensitive information, or show ads continuously while you’re using a device. 

Security researcher Lukas Stefanko from digital security company ESET discovered that the games contained malware and posted their titles on Twitter. A total of 13 games were removed, all from the same developer — Luiz O Pinto.

All the games are driving simulators with different themes, like luxury car racing or firefighter truck driving. But none of the games would work, according to Stefanko. After installing, the game supposedly asked the user to download an extra item called “Game Center.” When a user would try opening the game, it would close itself almost immediately, and the game’s icon would become hidden. 

This extra item — Game Center — would then gain full network access to a user’s device and display ads when the device was unlocked, according to Stefankos. It could also potentially record network traffic going in and out of devices.

Two of the apps were trending on Google’s Play Store, which makes them easier to find than non-trending apps, and therefore more likely to be installed. Stefanko estimates that the games were installed over 560,000 times from Google’s Play Store.

It’s a mystery as to how two of the games were trending in the Google Play Store when they didn’t work. But it’s not the first time that apps have been removed from Google’s Play Store for containing malware, and it could erode the trust Android users have in the Play Store, especially for smaller app developers who are relatively unknown. 

Here’s Google’s comment on the latest malware-infected apps it recommended on its own app store: “Providing a safe and secure experience for our users is our top priority. We appreciate the researcher’s report and their efforts to help make Google Play more secure. The apps violated our policies and have been removed from the Play Store.”

It’s not a satisfactory response, in my opinion. If a safe and secure experience is a top priority, surely a malware-infected app wouldn’t be trending on the Google Play Store.

If you’ve downloaded one of the apps below, your best bet is to factory reset your device after backing up your photos, text messages, and anything else you want to keep. If that’s too drastic, you could try uninstalling the offending app and downloading an anti-malware app, like Malwarebytes, to get rid of the malware. 

Some legitimate games — or at least we think they’re legitimate — have similar titles and images. You should look out for any app published by “Luiz O Pinto.” 

Check out the 13 games that were removed from the Google Play Store for containing malware:


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