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Beware: Fake WhatsApp listing rakes in more than a million downloads

November 06, 2017

A fake WhatsApp listing on the Google Play Store has succeeded in raking in over a million installations on Android devices prior to being removed from the platform.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, though few are pleased as a fake app listing masquerading as the official WhatsApp for Android client succeeded in drawing in more than a million downloads from the Google Play Store.

The developer of the fake WhatsApp listing leveraged a Unicode white space to make it appear as if the official developer of the false client was WhatsApp Inc – and Google’s security measures failed to differentiate the falsified information from the platform’s official presence on the Play Store.

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Users around the world regarded the app as authentic, as the white Unicode space gave the appearance of WhatsApp Inc being the official developer of the listing – meanwhile, the developer was in fact listed as WhatsApp+Inc%C2%A0.

The app, which was hence left undisturbed, was able to draw in over a million downloads; the developer in question used the false application to host ads, and thankfully did not use the listing to capture or steal the private information of users attempting to sign up to WhatsApp’s instant messaging service.

The news marks a new chapter in Google’s fight against fraudulent apps in the Google Play Store – while the incident proved a minor risk to those duped into downloading the fake app, the implications could have been far worse had valuable personal information been obtained.

It remains uncertain as to whether either Google or WhatsApp (through its parent, Facebook) will take further action against the developer.

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Follow Bryan Smith on Twitter: @bryansmithSA