My Android device just suggested I buy a brand new Audi, displaying a full screen popup advert to persuade me.
As someone who prefers to keep all manner of promotional materials, social networks, and malware off his phone (I use OmniROM, featured previously), this came as something of a surprise, as you can imagine.
One of my apps is serving ads. But which one is the malware?
Ads On Android: The Good Old Days
There was a time when ads on Android were big news. Remember Notification Area adverts? They caused a bit of a storm when it became apparent that promotional messages would soon start appearing across the top of your phone’s display, with AirPush and SlingLabs just two of the companies making it possible for ads to appear there.
With Notification Area ads (which can still impact users on older devices), it is straightforward to identify the app responsible thanks to its icon appearing next to the ad in Android 4.1 and later.
Full screen ads, on the other hand, are a little different.
How Do You Spot The Culprit App Serving Ads?
From time to time in the course of my work (for MakeUseOf and beyond), I end up with apps installed that I wouldn’t normally use. I’m more discerning than most, however; there is every chance that you’re using apps that are displaying ads that you’re putting up with, perhaps because you play a free game.
This is fair enough, as long as the ads appear in the game.
But what if the ads are popping up on the home screen with no warning? Putting it plainly, this is malware, something that can take some work to trace.
When deciding where to place ads within your application, you should carefully consider user-experience. For example, you don’t want to fill the screen with multiple ads that will quite likely annoy your users. In fact, this practice is banned by some ad networks. Also, avoid placing ads too closely to UI controls to avoid inadvertent clicks.
The first thing you should do is close all of your apps. Use the usual method of long-pressing home (or tapping the multitasking button) and swiping each app to discard. You might also opt to restart your phone, which may be quicker.
Next, take a look at the apps you installed lately, around the time that the popups first appeared. This might take some doing if you’re a regular user of new apps. When you spot likely offenders, head to Google Play and check the reviews of the app. Do any relate to surprise adverts? If so, delete that app. Don’t stop there, however — check all the apps you have recently installed.
Deleting The Ad-Serving Apps
Deleting an app is usually straightforward. Just open Settings > Applications and long-tap the app. Select Uninstall to remove it.
However, you might prefer a more extreme solution. The first would be to restore a backup of your phone taken before the evil ad serving malware was installed.
Alternatively, you can initiate a factory restore to remove all apps and data from your phone, wiping it and starting from scratch. This might be the preferred option for most, especially if you’re particularly concerned by the ads that are being served.
Finally, consider installing an alternative ROM. If you’re going to factory reset, now is as good a time as any to look at different flavours of Android for your smartphone or tablet.
Can’t Find The Offending App?
Perhaps the best option for anyone planning to use their phone or tablet without having to factory reset is to employ an anti-adware tool, a utility designed to detect ad-serving malware.
AdWare is probably the best place to start, a free app that will detect connections to ad networks from within your apps. You will probably already know that some of the results display in-app ads. What you’re looking for is anything that displays an ad on your home screen. With this app, you can tap the information button to see what sort of ads are being displayed, and take action from within the app to remove the offending software.