The Microsoft Store: A wretched hive of scams and fake apps

The Microsoft Store: A wretched hive of scams and fake apps

Summary: It appears that Microsoft's online app store is suffering from a serious infestation of scam and fake apps turning up with discomforting regularity in popular searches.

TOPICS: Microsoft, Apps, Windows

One of the new features that the post-PC world has made popular is the concept of the app store. These app stores offer users a chance to browse and download apps from a single official repository with just a few clicks or taps. Apple has an app store. Google has an app store. And Microsoft has an app store.

And it appears that Microsoft's online app store is suffering from a serious infestation of scam and fake apps turning up with discomforting regularity in popular searches.

Note: Hat tip to Lowell Heddings of HowToGeek for highlighting some of these scam and fake apps.

Fire up the Microsoft Store in Windows 8 (or visit the store online) and go looking for "antivirus" apps and users are faced with apps such as these, neither of which are genuine security apps:

Go searching for popular browsers and you come across things such as these, none of which are genuine, and most of this are little more than paid for links to the genuine applications.

On top of that there are apps that are blatant scams and egregious trademark violations. How this particular example got past Microsoft boggles the mind:

And what about this app, unashamedly titled "Get Windows 8.1 update here":

Oh, and check out this totally unofficial "Adobe Flash Player" from "microsoft studioz":

Genuine? Definitely not! Again, the fact that such a developer name got past Microsoft staggers me.

I could go on and on, but I won't.

The problem here is that these apps pollute popular searches that regular users – people who might not have the tech smarts that you or I have to be able to spot them as scams – are likely to carry out. While these apps should set off the alarm bells for people reading this, their purpose is clear – to scam users.   

And remember, Microsoft also gets a cut from every sale made.

Scam apps are a problem that faces all app stores. Apple's tightly curated model seems to be the best at keeping them to a minimum, while Google's more relaxed attitude allows a greater volume of dubious apps into the store. But Microsoft's Store seems to be suffering badly, with some blatantly scammy and fraudulent apps turning up in popular searches. The fact that apps with names such as "Windows 8.1" or "Adobe Dreamweaver" are present, or that a developer can call themselves "Microsoft" seems to suggest that whoever is in charge of checking apps before allowing them into the store is asleep on the job.

While there's no doubt that there are many good, genuine apps in the Microsoft Store, there's also an appalling volume of junk apps, rendering it a dangerous place for users. Many of the listings I've highlighted above are quite obviously bogus, but there are plenty of far more subtle examples that might not be so easy to identify.

For the record, I did not test any of these downloads for malware.

It's time for Microsoft to do a better job of curating its online app store.

See also:

Topics: Microsoft, Apps, Windows

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  • Sadly, true

    Just look for "VLC" if you want to see how bad it is - there is 1 legitimate app and last I checked about 15 fake ones. Reporting these apps to Microsoft does nothing, so they definitely need some bad press like this to get to act on it.
    • ...

      Just checked. They actually are down to only 3 fake VLC apps now. Which is horribly bad instead of appallingly bad. At least it seems they are finally doing something - usually after reporting apps they wouldn't act for months.
      • As opposed to all the VLC crap on the Apple store

        One real app and several fake VLC apps on the Apple store. ALL the app stores have fake crap. Adrian just happens to be an Apple fanboi, so slamming Microsoft is his apparent hobby. Take his articles with a grain of salt (or three).
        • use your brains (if you have one bigger than a walnut)

          Umm. I just checked the apple store - there is nothing with vlc in the title. You are an order of magnitude worst than anything Adrian can be - because at least he is reporting facts. You may not like his facts because you are so clouded by your lack of proper judgement.

          The point is, you will not find apps in the apple store that use Microsoft, or Google as the author (unless they are). You will not find apps that look like they are a commercial product, with the purpose of tricking someone to click. That's his point.
          • Speak for Yourself

            Even the most cursory scan turns up lots of VLC-related apps in the Apple App store with "VLC" in the title. I guess you should be directing the "brains" personal attack at yourself. Get a grip.
          • I guess you need to verify with an Apple PC....

            VLC or VLC player will not get you any such app from the Apple store.
            Easily verifiable.
          • Apple Store

            I suppose if you're going to limit your search to the Apple "PC" app store, in which Apple claims to only have "thousands" of apps, then sure, you will probably not find as many scams ... or as much of anything. MOST people search the Apple App Store, which includes apps for the iPhone and iPad. You ought to give it a try and see all the crapware in there -- including various VLC crap-apps.
          • There are SEPARATE stores for Mac OS & iOS

            For Mac there is the "Mac App Store"
            For iOS there is the "App Store" (sometimes referred to as the "iTunes App Store").

            There is NOTHING named "Apple App Store"
          • Just searched the Mac App Store using my iMac running Mac OS 10.7.5

            for the term "VLC". I was presented with only 6 results - NONE of which had VLC in the title, app description, or version changes. Perhaps the search engine was picking up the term in the customer reviews.
          • Re: speednet

            Hi speednet,
            While partman is just trolling you with semantics, there is one important point you missed. Most apps on iTunes and google play that are not VLC yet have VLC in their title are not scams. They are VLC companion apps such as remotes and streamers. The VLC scams are usually paid apps that claim to be the real VLC and either provide an inferior video app, or a copy of the real open source VLC. You are right, there's at least one of these on google play, this one:
          • My only attempt was at correcting semantics

            I believe AKH is referring this article to Windows store (which comes with Windows 8 up) allowing false or malware programs instead of a popular video player onto your Windows machine.
            This is bad, and in no way relates to usable remote control apps of which there are many in the Apple App store. I use a Windows Media Center app (I have multiple Windows PCs) on my iPod Touch all the time (very handy).
            I have it as well on my Asus Q200 11" Touchscreen. Which I purchased to familiarize myself with all the "supposed benefits" of Touch and Metro.
            Needless to say despite my close to 30 year history with DOS and Windows I'm still not a fan of Windows 8, as are many alienated Microsoft users.
            Your attempt was at defending Microsoft with legitimate iOS remote controls. I think those semantics would more likely label you as a defensive Pro MS troll.
          • Apology

            Sorry, for some reason I thought both your post the and the one by mmay before, and the ones by romad after were yours, which is why I assumed you were trolling. My mistake. You were not trolling and I apologize for accusing you of such.

            At no point was I in any way "defending Microsoft with legitimate iOS remote controls", so I assume you misread something or misattributed some post too, which probably makes us even. The semantics Speednet was trolled with was to ignore the iOS app store and instead of look at the Mac App Store.
          • At least it isn't

            pea sized like yours.
    • This is where OSS has the advantage

      For instance, in the Ubuntu Software Center not only is there a review process but a community to keep watch on the software in the USC. I have never seen a fake app in the Ubuntu Software Center, but I guess it could happen in theory.

      Going through MOTU

      Packages which are not in Ubuntu yet, require extra scrutiny and go through a special review process, before they get uploaded and get a final review by the archive admins. More information on the review process, including the criteria which will be applied, can be found on the Code Reviewers page. Developers are encouraged to examine their own packages using these guidelines prior to submitting them for review.

      To receive higher quality bug reports write an apport hook for your package.

      That said: the general idea is. If you find something suspicious you report it on launchpad, askubuntu, ubuntuforums and someone will pick it up.

      What could happen is that a creator of malware makes a valid package, gets it accepted and then makes an update that adds the malware. At least one of the many many always catches this and he/she will report this somewhere. It is not going to get onto lots of machines this way. (the effort of getting it onto our machines is too much for the potential reward: targeting windows machines is much easier).
      • Ubuntu

      • Too bad

        everything else is a negative
  • I haven't seen to many!

    But hey, I use Windows 8 as my main OS, not sure about AKH. OH wait--------
  • " For the record, I did not test any of these downloads for malware. "

    Please STOP the FUD, Does the author have any clue how modern apps work in Windows?

    These kind of fake apps appear in all platforms. I am sure that MS will deal with it.

    Now consider another report on Android which appeared in Zdnet. 68 percent of all android apps have SECURITY vulnerability.

    Windows modern apps are secure, its cannot function as malware.
    • Bias

      You may want to check the windows store. While his past articles make it very likely the author is biased and does have an anti-microsoft agenda, he's absolutely right on this one.
      I use Windows and want it to be good - the app situation is bad and a little public shaming will likely make it better, so this article is a good thing in my book.
      • He didn't test any.

        Developers and students are free to publish simple apps...not all of them are fake.