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counterfeit app (fake app)

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

A counterfeit app is an app that claims to fill a purpose while actually being fake, ineffective, useless or even harmful to a user's device.

Counterfeit apps may be found on legitimate app stores such as Apple’s app store or Google Play in cases where they have not yet been detected or reported. These apps may seek to defraud users by offering software with functions they don’t actually perform or steal user data and infect the user’s device with ransomware.

Counterfeits may visually appear to perform a function. Fake anti-malware programs, for example, are a common type of scareware that pretends to scan the user’s device and report problems. It is much easier to make a fake app than a functioning one. For a counterfeit anti-malware app, all that’s needed is a UI that displays images and some text reporting scanning and results, in place of software with complex scanning heuristics that a genuine version requires. Furthermore, the fake version always claims to find malware and offers a solution for a price.

In other cases, a fully functioning copy of a piece of software may be stolen and distributed without authorization. For example, this happened with Cuphead, a game that was ported from PC and console to iOS without the developer’s knowledge. Companies often caution that these apps may be doing anything on users’ phones with the permissions given, which are the same as those for legitimate programs.

It can sometimes be hard to spot a counterfeit app. Savvy users may know to check out an application in advance but many novices don’t know where to start. Cautionary steps include getting the app directly from verified developer web pages and social media and checking out reviews, the developer and past releases.

Also notable are anti-counterfeit apps, which are designed to help detect more conventional counterfeiting of currency. The software scans bills and compares physical features in order to detect faked bills. Anti-counterfeiting apps are commonly used by individuals that handle cash.

This was last updated in July 2018

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