In the threat landscape, it can sometimes be difficult to classify if something should be considered a threat. Certainly, there are the blatantly obvious threats (read: malware) but there are some that merit discussion. One such example are “cloned” apps or “spoofed” apps.
As the term suggests, “cloned” or “spoofed” apps are apps that resemble other apps in functionality and even name. Tech site Ars Technica wrote an article highlighting just how fast spoofed apps can make their way into app stores. Featured in the said article was a photo-collage app that was launched in the Apple App Store mid-May in 2013; by August of the same year, seven clones were available in the App Store.
Akinator the (Fake) Genie
We spotted in the Apple App Store yet another spoofed app of the popular application, “Akinator the Genie.” The cloned version is called “Akinator Genie,” attributed to a developer named Jennifer Mendelson who has been known for cloning apps. Users can download this spoofed app via App Store.
Figure 1. The official “Akinator the Genie” app (top) and the spoofed version (bottom)
The premise for the apps is the same: a genie named “Akinator” will try to guess what the user is thinking by asking a few questions. The original app guesses a real or fictional character. Meanwhile, the cloned app guesses a shape.
Figure 2. The spoofed Akinator app tries to guess the shape selected by the user
The original app has received favorable reviews from users, a stark contrast to the negative ones received by the clone.
Figure 3. Customer reviews for the cloned app
The Bigger Picture
The immediate implication for this particular app is undoubtedly monetary loss given the overwhelming negative feedback posted by its users. The spoofed app costs US$1.99, the same price as the original app. Users who pay for the cloned app will invariably end up disappointed and with a lighter wallet.
However, the existence of cloned apps has bigger implications in the mobile landscape. For one thing, developers need to be concerned about protecting their code. In our post “Mobile App Developers: Compete on Privacy and Security, Too,” Trend Micro CTO Raimund Genes commented on hardening apps to avoid repackaging. The same sentiment could apply to cloning.
The existence of spoofed apps can be damaging to the reputation of the developers of the original or imitated app. Users might assume that the spoofed apps came from these developers and forever associate said developers with unfavorable products. Users may shy away from purchasing or trying future or other apps from these developers because of their experience with the spoofed apps.
These apps, specifically their presence in the App Store have implications for Apple security. This rare instance of cloned apps, showed how cybercriminals are also targeting Apple users due to its popularity and immense followers. Developers can file complaints, however, takedowns may take some time.
Users should always be careful when downloading apps, even if they are being offered in legitimate app stores. Actions like knowing the name of the developer and reading reviews can help weed out the legitimate apps from their spoofed or malicious counterparts.
Trend Micro has notified Apple of this spoofed app.
Update as of October 10, 2014, 8:52 P.M. (PDT):
The spoofed “Akinator” app features social media sharing via Facebook and Twitter. However, this feature does not appear to function.