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July 11, 2019 09:30 pm

Investigating Some Subscription Scam iOS Apps

Security engineer Ivan writes: For some reason Apple allows "subscription scam" apps on the App Store. These are apps that are free to download and then ask you to subscribe right on launch. It's called the freemium business model, except these apps ask you to subscribe for "X" feature(s) immediately when you launch them, and keep doing so, annoyingly, over and over until you finally subscribe. By subscribing you get a number of "free days" (trial) and then they charge you weekly/monthly/yearly for very basic features like scanning QR Codes. I've been trying to monitor apps that have these characteristics: 1. They have In-App purchases for their subscriptions. 2. They have bad reviews, specially with words like "scam" or "fraud". 3. Their "good" reviews are generic, potentially bot-generated. This weekend I focused on 5 apps from 2 different developers and to my surprise they are very similar, not only their UI/UX but also their code is shared and their patterns are absolutely the same. A side from being classic subscription scam apps, I wanted to examine how they work internally and how they communicate with their servers and what type of information are they sending.

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