64 new variants of 'Joker' malware have invaded Android app stores

In context: Malicious Android apps are nothing new, even on the supposedly well-curated Google Play Store. Indeed, just a couple of days ago, Google was forced to remove 17 Android apps that contained a malware family known as "Joker." Joker-laden apps masquerade as legitimate and may even provide useful functions to their users -- however, some time after the app has been downloaded onto a given device, its true, sinister goal is achieved.

In the case of the 17 apps mentioned before, that purpose involves swiping a users' SMS information to sign them up for premium wireless application protocol services, according to security research firm Zscaler.

However, that virus crackdown is only the latest in a longer string of similar Joker outbreaks -- similar clusters of Joker-laden apps have appeared many times over the past few years, with the first hitting Android marketplaces in late 2016.

Joker wouldn't be such a significant issue were it not for two things: the popularity of the apps it's been injected into, and its widespread deployment across not just the Google Play Store, but a variety of third-party Android app stores, some of which have even more lax security standards.

Or it could lead to bad actors learning some new tricks in Windows-based exploits.

According to Zscaler, the 17 apps involved in the latest Google crackdown were downloaded a whopping 120,000 times in total. That's 120,000 potential victims, and the problem is only getting worse: new reports suggest 64 new Joker variants have already been discovered in just the past couple of weeks.