Popular Google Play app became malicious adware — check your barcode scanner

Photo of Google Play app icon on Pixel 4 XL
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Android gets a bit of an exaggerated reputation for malware due to apps installed from outside of the official Google Play store. Unfortunately, Google's version of a walled garden doesn't always manage to keep the weeds out. 

The latest example was uncovered by the security company Malwarebytes. A member of its forums identified the app "Barcode Scanner" as being responsible for randomly popping up browser pages with ads during normal phone usage (via SlashGear). 

There are a couple of notable things about this situation versus some past instances of adware on Android. One is that it had over 10 million installs (meaning anywhere from 10 to 50 million), so a considerable number of users are involved. The other is that the app wasn't a recent install for any of the users, some had installed it years prior without any issues.

The sudden change in behavior has now been traced back to an update that occurred on December 4, 2020. There have been a number of examples in the past of apps that had adware injected unbeknownst to them by an ad SDK they were using. This change appears to have been deliberate by the developer as it is signed with the company's same digital certificate from previous updates.

The app has since been removed from Google Play, but those that have already installed it will need to delete the app themselves. As there are a considerable number of "Barcode Scanner" apps in Google Play, this is specifically from the developer "LavaBird LTD." Fortunately, this adware is dependent on the app being installed so uninstalling it is sufficient to eliminate the problem.

Sean Riley

Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more.  Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.