Squid Game Malware Detected on Google Play

Close Up of Squid Game Text on a Thumbnail on Netflix Mobile Application

Malicious actors have managed to sneak malware disguised as a Squid Game phone wallpaper app onto Google Play, the official Android app store. The good news is that Google has detected and removed the malicious app. Unfortunately, it had already been downloaded over 5000 times.

Victims who downloaded a wallpaper from the app could be exposed to ad fraud, or unintentionally be signed up to expensive SMS services.

Cybersecurity researchers have said they are not surprised by this event, as malware authors tend to exploit popular games, such as Fortnite and Pokemon.

Google Play currently has hundreds of unofficial Squid Game apps on its platform. Some of them are extremely popular: a game mimicking the show’s “red light, green light” game was downloaded over million times in just ten days.

Google usually checks applications for malicious activity both before and after they are uploaded to Play. However, researchers state that cybercriminals tend to find their way around Google’s systems.

Squid Game Malware Potentially Leads to Ad Fraud

The app was first discovered by an Android security researcher called @ReBenks on Twitter. ESET Android malware researcher Lukas Stefanko subsequently analyzed the Squid Game wallpaper app. Both researchers determined it was a brand of rogue Android software called Joker.

Users who downloaded the wallpaper were at risk of:

  • potential exposure to ad fraud, or
  • being signed up to costly SMS services without their knowledge or consent.

It is not new for malware developers to try and take advantage of viral content. In the past, they have misused the hype around popular games and even Covid-19 trackers. Stefanko could not ascertain if Google was getting quicker at detecting these malicious apps. However, he said that “it would make sense.”

Stefanko also analyzed a handful of the other unofficial Squid Game apps, including the “red light, green light” game, and found them to be harmless. However, many did contain a lot of in-app advertisements.

Experts Advise Caution Before Downloading Unofficial Apps

Stefanko said that, even though most of the apps appear to be harmless, users should exercise caution. He said that the threat of malware remains with unofficial apps.

“I would be careful when downloading any unofficial apps. Still, if I was going to install any of them, I would advise users to read reviews from others that might suggest what the app is about,” Stefanko added.

If you want to learn more about malware and how you can protect yourself, check out our detailed explanations here.

Technology policy researcher
Prateek is a technology policy researcher with a background in law. His areas of interest include data protection, privacy, digital currencies, and digital literacy. Outside of his research interests, Prateek is an avid reader and is engaged in projects on sustainable farming practices in India.