Cape Town - Most of the popular applications on Google's Play Store online site have fake copies loaded with malware designed to steal personal and financial information, a report has found.
Security company Trend Micro found that 77% of the top 50 applications on the storefront dedicated to Android powered smartphones have fakes which are designed to mimic the popular programs.
"These are like side-street knockoffs of name brand items but instead of a fake and harmless Rolex, you could download potentially dangerous mobile malware," said JD Sherry, Trend Micro's vice president of Technology and Solutions.
The company found that copies for top apps in several categories were common.
However, Google makes an effort to root out fake or malicious apps on the platform.
Prior to BlackBerry launching BBM or BlackBerry Messenger for Android, there were a number of fake BBM apps on Google Play Store, but most of those have been eliminated.
Mobile users though should be aware that beyond the official app store scammers will often attempt to get you to download applications from third party platforms such as websites.
One such platform even had detailed instructions to turn off Android security in order to download the content. It is likely that Android apps that require this kind of installation contain a malicious payload.
You can ensure that your Android device can only download from the Play Store by following these settings: [Settings > Security > Unknown Sources].
Beyond fake apps, users should also beware legitimate applications that cost a small fortune. Lain Logo costs R815.77 and the app simply presents a logo screen.
Expensive Application is one of three that cost R2 000 and beyond the install size of 633KB and publication date of 29 April 2014, there is scant information of what the application does.
Even apps that do not have a malicious payload could potentially be injected with instructions to scoop up user data which could benefit the authors.
There have been cases of apps - even antivirus applications - that do not perform the advertised function, but rather wait for instructions to compromise mobile devices.
Trend Micro advised that smartphone users are careful about apps that they install.
"When you download an app from Google Play, take time to make sure it is the app you are after and have a security program active to check that the app is not malicious. This is another example of criminals trying anything to infiltrate your devices and take what they can," said Sherry.
- Follow Duncan on Twitter