Microsoft-owned Minecraft is the biggest-selling video game of all time, and one of the biggest media properties ever. It has sold north of 100 million copies in a little over a decade and is a cultural phenomenon that grows in popularity each year. It is also known for having a relatively young fanbase.
Perhaps, then, it's no surprise to see threat actors are using Minecraft on the Google Play Store to prey on victims. Let's be clear, this is not the Minecraft game itself, but rather the whole industry of apps that have built up around it.
Security researchers say mobile apps on Android are using Minecraft to trick people into spending money. The game itself is a huge money spinner, but the lucrative nature of Minecraft comes more from add-ons and the ability to buy in-game items.
In other words, users are willing to spend money on the game. Bad actors are using this to pilfer from the more unsuspecting users, such as kids.
So-called “fleeceware” campaigns involve enticing users with a “free trial” that will secretly charge money each week from a user's phone bill. If unwitting victims do not spot these charges they could end up on the hook for hundreds of dollars.
“Fraudsters expect the user to forget about the installed application and its short trial, or fail to notice the real subscription cost,” Avast researchers say in a blog. “Scams of this nature take advantage of those who don't always read the fine print details of every app they download. In this case, young children are particularly at risk because they may think they are innocently downloading a Minecraft accessory, but not understand or may not pay attention to the details of the service to which they are subscribing.”
Seven apps related to Minecraft and other games have been reported so far, but they remained active during midweek. All of the apps are hugely popular, with two having over 100,000 installs and five having over one million installs!
Of course, not every install will result in the scam becoming active, but it's safe to assume many did.
Ondrej David, malware analysis team lead at Avast, says users should be cautious when downloading apps related to popular properties:
“We urge our customers to remain vigilant when downloading any app from unknown developers and to always carefully research user reviews and billing agreements before subscribing.”