Have you ever run into a mobile app or website that looked real, but turned out to be a trap? That’s the magic of Android overlays123>. These sneaky tools allow bad actors to trick users. They then get their hands on important data.

But what is the deal with these snazzy but malicious overlays? And, more importantly, how can you shield yourself from them?

Key Takeaways

  • Android overlays can be used by malicious apps to trick users into revealing sensitive data or granting dangerous permissions through clickjacking attacks.
  • Cybercriminals deploy overlays to make people think they are visiting a legitimate website or using a trusted app when they are not.
  • Overlay attacks can lead to device takeover, data theft, and even ransomware deployment, affecting the majority of Android users before the release of Android 8.0.
  • Google has patched the Android overlay vulnerability (CVE-2017-0752), but users with older Android versions need to update their devices to stay protected.
  • Regularly checking app permissions and using anti-malware solutions can help safeguard against overlay attacks on Android devices.

What Are Android Overlays?

Android overlays are cool, letting apps show info over other apps or on the screen. They’re great for adding features or showing alerts. This way, they don’t get in the way of what you’re doing much3.

Defining Android Overlays

Put simply, Android overlays are windows that sit above the main screen or other apps. Apps like this need a special permission, SYSTEM_ALERT_WINDOW. This lets them show windows over everything else3. These windows can be clear, a bit see-through, or solid. They show all sorts of stuff, from little alerts to big interactive menus.

Legitimate Use of Overlays

Developers love overlays. They allow extra features to blend nicely with what you’re already doing. A message app, for instance, might use one to show new messages smooth without blocking your view. Or, a weather app might pop up with the latest forecast right on your home screen3. Despite worries, many trusted apps in the Play Store do this to make things better for users3.

Even though overlays are mostly good, bad people can use them too. They might try to trick you with fake windows that could steal your info. It’s important to be aware of these dangers, for both the ones making apps and those using them. This keeps the mobile world a safer place34.

Malicious Use of Android Overlays

The use of Android overlays is a big threat to our mobiles. Bad actors exploit this to make fake screens. These screens look real and trick users into clicking on them5. They may want to steal your info, see what you type, give you malware, or get higher access to your system5.

Attackers often put a fake screen on a real app. This way, they can see what you do and maybe get your private info5. These fake screens can also hide bad intentions or actions of the app5.

Malicious screens can also make you install bad apps or give them more power than they should get5. They might ask you to turn on features or get apps from unsafe places. This could lead to spreading malware5. Then, the malware might misuse your camera, see your location, listen through your mic, and more5.

Android updated to version 12 with protection from these attacks6. But, breaking through this protection is possible for attackers6. So, both users and developers need to be smart against these threats5.

Thankfully, tools like Appdome’s Mobile Fraud Prevention can help. They automatically protect against overlay attacks. This keeps mobile apps and their users safe5.

Overlay Attack TechniquesImpact
Data Harvesting and Input CaptureCan significantly impact KYC compliance efforts and enable synthetic ID fraud
Malware DeliveryTrick users into enabling Accessibility Services or installing apps from unknown sources
Privilege Escalation and Permission AbuseManipulate users into granting permissions that can be abused by the malware

“Overlay attacks encompass a variety of techniques, including Data Harvesting and Input Capture Attacks, which are commonly used by cybercriminals in synthetic ID fraud campaigns and can significantly impact Know Your Customer (KYC) compliance efforts.”5

Requesting Permissions Under False Pretenses

Malicious Android apps often trick users with fake coverups. They pretend to be apps we know and love, like Google, Instagram, and WhatsApp. By doing this, they try to get us to allow them into important parts of our phones, like the Android Accessibility Service and Device Admin Permission7. These apps let bad guys control our phones from afar. They can see our contacts, texts, calls, and more once they sneak in7.

Another trick is making phony login pages. They look like they belong to big names such as Netflix, PayPal, and LinkedIn7. For example, a fake Contacts app once got access to SMS, the Contacts list, storage, and the phone itself. Then, it disappeared7. These methods are meant to steal our info, money, or even put more bad stuff on our phones.

Hiding Malicious Requests

Some bad apps cover up what they’re really asking for. They put their own message in front of the real one that asks for dangerous permissions. Users are fooled into giving them access, enabling the malware to misuse it7. This is scary because it cheats the phone’s protective features and gets to the stuff it shouldn’t, like our personal info.

Overlay TacticExampleImpact
Mimicking Legitimate AppsMalware apps imitating Google, Instagram, and WhatsAppTricking users into granting permissions to malicious apps
Hiding Permissions RequestsApp disguised as Contacts hiding dangerous permissionsGranting access to sensitive user data and system functions
Phishing AttacksFake login pages mimicking services like Netflix and PayPalStealing user credentials and financial information

We’re using mobile apps more and more, almost 5 hours every day in 20238. So, the risks from these tricks rise, too. Staying alert and using good security help keep us safe from these Android app dangers789.

Clickjacking and Tapjacking Attacks

Android overlays can be used for nasty clickjacking and tapjacking tricks. Users get fooled into clicking on hidden content10. A study looked deeply into clickjacking on mobile apps and system screens. It found a way to stop these attacks with a scheme that doesn’t bother the user much10. This defense also works without extra work from users or developers, fitting in with current Android setups10.

Tapjacking tricks users into clicking on invisible stuff. Often, this is to give permissions or do actions without knowing11. In a test with 20 people, no one realized they had been duped or noticed anything odd. Even after knowing the app was bad, they didn’t see the issue11. The risk increases because apps from the Play Store can easily use a key permission that’s hard for users to refuse11.

Google knows of these threats but hasn’t fixed everything. Some Android features make it tough to stop these attacks completely11. Most fixes don’t reach everyone, leaving many devices at risk. Also, many popular apps need that risky permission, creating a dilemma about how to keep users safe without changing their app experience too much11.

Deceptive Interaction attacks aim to trick users into doing harmful things. They use sneaky ways like faking where something comes from or presenting fake data. These tricks can be used with Android overlays to fool users into doing things they shouldn’t12.

It’s clear we need strong defenses against clickjacking and tapjacking. Being aware of how these threats work is key to protecting mobiles and personal info101112.

Intercepting Login Credentials and MFA Tokens

overlay attacks

Overlay attacks use either transparent or mimicking overlays. They’re a big problem for protecting users’ login info and MFA tokens. These attacks are hard to spot because they look like part of the real app13.

Transparent and Mimicking Overlays

Transparent overlays cover real apps, hiding input fields like passwords. They can catch what a user types, stealing crucial data13.

Mimicking overlays look like real apps, fooling users. This is very effective at taking login details and MFA codes from users unknowingly13.

Overlay TypeImpact
Transparent OverlaysIntercept login credentials
Mimicking OverlaysCapture login credentials and MFA tokens

More than 1,200 phishing kits can steal 2FA codes. There are three main tools for this: Evilginx, Muraena, and Modlishka13. Modlishka is well-known, while PHOCA helps find hidden phishing tools with AI13.

Machine learning is in PHOCA to spot phishing sites by their features. This is better than just looking at them. Using PHOCA cuts down on phishing threats by checking URLs and domains smartly13.

“Overlay attacks, whether they involve transparent or mimicking overlays, pose a serious threat to user login credentials and MFA tokens, making it incredibly challenging for users to detect fraudulent activities.”

android overlays how they are used to trick people

Common Goals of Malicious Overlays

Cybercriminals often use Android overlays for malicious purposes. They do this to steal personal information, such as bank details2. These attacks include capturing data and malware delivery. They aim to abuse your device’s permissions to harm you2.

They can also block your access to your own device using a non-removable window2. This method is common in attacks like Ransomware, where they block access to your device2.

Sometimes, these attacks trick you into giving access to harmful privileges, such as Device Administrator rights2. This can lead to even more attacks, like locking your screen or deleting your data2.

These issues mainly affected Android devices with versions older than 8.0. Android 6.0 was the most vulnerable, with over 30% risk2. Even though Google fixed this in 2017, many devices are still at risk2.

Yet, not all overlays are bad. Some are used for creative work, like adding effects to videos14. They improve the look and feel of video clips14.

Still, cybercriminals misuse this same technology. They turn these creative tools into threats, potentially harming Android users2. Knowing both the good and bad sides of overlays is key for a safer mobile world21415.

Protecting Against Overlay Attacks

In the world of mobile security, defending against overlay attacks on Android devices is key. These sneaky tactics aim to fool users into sharing personal and financial info. But, don’t worry, there are ways to protect your device and data.

Checking App Permissions

Start by keeping a close eye on the app permissions on your Android. Overlay attacks love to abuse the “Appear on top” permission16. This lets apps show fake screens over real ones. When you see strange or unnecessary permissions, turn them off. This simple step can help avoid getting tricked.

Using Anti-Malware Solutions

Adding a good anti-malware app to your phone can also keep you safe16. These apps are made to catch and stop malicious overlays and other bad stuff. Make sure to update your anti-malware often. This keeps you protected against the latest tricks from cyber crooks.

A smart mix of watching app permissions, using strong anti-malware, and staying alert to overlay threats is powerful. It helps shield your Android and everything important on it16.

Overlay Attacks and Mobile Fraud

Mobile malware

Overlay attacks are now a go-to move for cybercriminals aiming at mobile fraud. They do this to gather data, catch input, spread mobile malware, and even seize control over devices. This helps them get important user data17.

Data Harvesting and Input Capture

Bad actors use overlay attacks to sneak in on user input. They might show fake login screens or overlays to look like real apps. This way, they collect info like login details and financial data. Then they can use this for bad stuff like stealing identities or fraud17.

Mobile Malware Delivery

Overlay attacks are also a doorway for sending mobile malware. By getting users to okay permissions or to interact with these sneaky overlays, hackers get a start and can push more malware that messes with privacy and security17.

Privilege Escalation and Permission Abuse

Attackers use overlay attacks to push their way up and misuse Android device permissions. They trick the user interface and Android’s security to enter areas they shouldn’t. This exposes the user to more risks and data exploiting17.

With more people using mobile wallets, the problem of overlay attacks has only gotten worse18. Together with synthetic fraud and attacks on payment apps, these schemes have cost millions and leaked a lot of private info18.

To fight back, it’s important to add strong security to mobile apps. Things like self-protection, anti-tampering, and anti-debugging are key in keeping people safe from attacks18.

If we understand overlay attacks better, we can defend against them. Both companies and users play a part in fighting mobile fraud. Being prepared is the best way to adjust to new threats1718.

Android API 31 and Overlay Protection

Android API 31, known as Android 12, added a shield to stop apps from overlay attacks. Sadly, this shield can be overcome and doesn’t resist change19. Android Nougat started limiting ‘Toast’ notifications to last just 3.5 seconds. This made it harder for Screen Overlay Attacks to succeed19. Android Oreo is the latest version to provide strong security against Overlay Attacks19.

Yet, Overlay Attacks are sneakier as they hide well from most people19. To really tackle these attacks, developers and security teams need better solutions.

Screen Overlay Attacks focus on Android devices, mainly the older ones19. They trick users into granting access to vital device functions. This includes the camera, location, and more19. Android phones might download harmful apps mistakenly from phishing emails and such19. Once given permission, these apps can keep accessing the device until stopped manually.

These attacks use fake screens that look real to get user info19. The types of Overlay Attacks include taking user data, planting malware, and raising user privileges20. Unfortunately, vulnerabilities like Tapjacking exist. Android 12 deals with this issue by stopping occluded attacks. Android 13 and newer block touch events on overlays coming from different sources.

Developers can guard against some Tapjacking by setting setFilterTouchesWhenObscured to true20. For other cases, they should ignore touch events with certain flags20. Android 12 has fixed background toast and toast burst attacks. This makes everything safer from these threats.

The protection Android offers is a good start but not enough alone. It’s important for developers and security pros to keep up and find new ways to battle Overlay Attacks on Androids1920.

Defeating Overlay Attacks with Appdome

In today’s cybersecurity world, overlay attacks are a big worry for people making and using mobile apps. These dangerous attacks mostly hit Android devices, tricking and harming their users. Yet, there is a way to fight back: Appdome’s unique no-code security platform.

Appdome’s solution, Mobile Fraud Prevention, fights detect and prevent overlay attacks21. As mobile use grows, so does the risk from bad actors. Traditional defenses usually don’t stop these sneaky attacks21. Appdome makes it easy for app makers to add solid security. This gives peace of mind to app users against overlay threats.

Leading the charge at Appdome is Karen Hsu, a tech industry veteran with over 20 years of know-how21. She helped invent 5 patents and started BlockchainIntel, which fights fraud in blockchain21. Karen also launched Blockchain by Women, encouraging more info and diversity in blockchain and digital currencies21.

Appdome’s solution keeps up with the changing face of mobile fraud, covering tools like click bots, mobile malware, cheat engines, and virtualized environments21. It also fights against credential stuffing, app overlays, clones, fakes, and trojans used by fraudsters21.

An example of its success is a $6 million fraud case tracked by BlockchainIntel. Fixing this required major effort21. Appdome’s no-code unified defense automation platform is key. It stops overlay attacks and other mobile fraud types. This helps developers and security pros keep their apps safe for users.

The cyber world keeps changing, making strong and flexible solutions vital. Appdome’s overlay attack prevention and mobile fraud prevention tools give app makers and users a safe, no-code way to protect their digital stuff. It fights off the latest cyber tricks21225.


Android overlays have become a big problem for security. Bad guys use them to trick people. They mess with apps and devices using features like accessibility and overlays. They can control them by using tricks like permissions misuse and various overlay techniques, which are pretty sneaky23.

Malware that targets banking apps is on the rise. Attackers do things like UI injections and watch your screen to steal info. They may even do transactions without you knowing. They’ve gotten quite clever, using tricks like double file extensions to hide their bad files24. To fight back, we all need to be more careful. Users and developers should use strong security methods. Apps like Appdome can help. Knowing about how these attacks work and keeping up to date with Android updates helps keep our phones safe23.

By teaming up against these dangers, we can make mobiles safer for everyone. Working together is key to protecting our private info from these threats25.

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