Technology

Squid Game app downloaded thousands of times was really Joker malware in disguise

Squid Game has set the internet on fire. With Netflix’s hit on everyone’s lips, people are rushing to download everything and anything related to the Korean show, including a wallpaper app from the Play Store that was packed with malware.

There is no official Squid Games app—not counting Netflix, of course—yet ESET’s Android malware researcher Lukas Stefanko tweeted that there are over 200 applications related to the series listed on the Play Store, and at least one of them was yet another piece of malicious software that slipped past Google’s safeguards.

Forbes reports that an Android security researcher using the handle @ReBensk discovered the Squid Game wallpaper app. It was later analyzed by Stefanko, and both concluded it to be a brand of Joker malware.

We’ve seen Joker on the Play Store plenty of times before. It can surreptitiously sign its victims onto premium subscription services by simulating the sign-up process. It’s also able to steal SMS messages, contact lists, and device information. In 2019, it was detected in 24 apps that had over 472,000 downloads, and 64 new variants appeared on Google’s storefront last year.

The Joker variant in this case targeted victims with ad frauds and signed them up to expensive SMS services without their knowledge. The good news is that Google identified the app and removed it from the store, but not before it was downloaded at least 5,000 times.

It’s always best to be wary of unofficial apps taking advantage of something that’s suddenly become popular, be it games, movies, or TV shows. A “mobile version” of Cyberpunk 2077 arrived not long after the game’s launch that turned out to be ransomware.

Stefanko noted that all the other Squid Game apps he checked were free of malware, though they were packed with benign ads. But it’s always worth checking the reviews to ensure that what you’re downloading is on the level.