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How to find hidden apps on Android and what security threats can they pose

Submitted on 05/25/2019

As any other operating system, Android has hidden partitions which are impossible to access accidentally since in order to do it it's crucial to know the correct sequence of actions. Moreover, there are apps allowing a user to create similar folders, for example, in order to hide the contents of those folders from parents, when it comes to the phone of a child phone. Finally, you can hide even  apps themselves so that they will be still present in the system, but won't appear in any list in the settings of your device.

Further, we're going to talk about secret apps installed accidentally or intentionally.

The potential danger of hidden apps

First of all, you should check your device via an antivirus, if:

  • since recently it has been  consuming more power than usual,
  • you know for sure that there are secret apps in the system which can't be uninstalled.

Any free version from well-known manufacturers is suitable for an ordinary virus-check of Android. For example, Avast Mobile Security, Kaspersky Mobile Antivirus or Norton Security and Antivirus. Your can use them as hidden app detectors.

Besides, hidden apps can show hidden ads which can't be easily toggled off (here we've describe the ways to disable the showing of ads on Android, but unfortunately none of them will work in 100% of cases).

Where can you find the apps after you install them on Android

All Android system apps are stored in the service folder "/system/app", when the apps installed by a user are stored in the folder at "/data/app", but the content of these directories isn't that obvious and clear.

The list with every installed app can be seen at the Settings > Apps. This menu section displays all available programs, including system software. Nevertheless, there are special apps allowing to hide certain programs from this list. We're going to talk about them further.

Apps hiding icons from home screen

There is a number of apps originally designed in order to protect personal data such as messages, contacts, folders with certain content, etc. For example, ZERO Communication, KeepSafe, AppLock, Hide It Pro and others.

Their functionality varies, but almost all of them can be used in order to hide certain folders or replace their icons with any other, for example, similar to the icon of an ordinary app such as calculator or scheduler. When you try to open from the home screen an app which hides a folder, the system is likely to ask for a pin code and if you enter it incorrectly, an empty folder will appear on the screen. The most advanced apps don't require a password, they simply run the program they pretend to be, so that no one except of the user of such device can even guess that after you perform additional actions, the same icon can open a protected folder.

All these features can be extremely useful when a phone is lost or it isn't protected by a pin code or a graphical key. The person who finds a device with such apps  simply won't be able to access the personal data of its user, even if this person makes an attempt to do so.

But there is a downside too – as a rule, such apps are used for their own purposes by teenagers, who are under constant supervision of their parents and who need to keep private (according to their minds) data in plain sight, but so that in fact no one can get access to it.

Other ways to hide apps on Android

Android system also has standard ways of hiding an app which aren't as well-thought-out as in specialized software, but the capacities of them are often more than enough.

For example, if the list of apps has every single app that can be found in the system, including Android services the purposes of which you aren't sure about, the list can be edited in the way that you'll see only the programs you need. You can't delete the majority of such services since they either perform system functions or are pre-installed in the firmware of your phone  (Google services are a striking example because people rarely use them).

Finally, how you can hide "unnecessary" apps on Android (as an example we use a home screen managed by Apex Launcher app):

  1. Select an empty space on your screen and double-tap it in order to open the menu of Apex Launcher
  2. Find "Hidden apps". If it isn't mentioned in the list, try opening "Application menu settings" and finding the desired section there
  3. The opened window is likely to be empty and at the bottom of it you will see the "Hide applications" button which you should tap.
  4. Now mark the apps which you would like to hide in the system lists and choose "Hide applications"
  5. Confirm it in the next opened window by choosing "Hide applications" at the bottom of the screen
  6. From now on when you open the menu again through the settings of Apex Launcher, it will show the apps hidden at the current moment. On the contrary the standard "Settings" of your device won't list them.

How to find hidden apps on Android

There are several ways how you can find hidden apps:

Method 1: via default Android settings

  1. Open the "Settings" of your device.
  2. Go to "Applications".
  3. Switch to "All" tab. If there are no tabs, open the menu in the upper right corner of your screen and look for the sections with "Hidden" or something similar in the name.

On the older versions of Android (5 and below), you have to swipe the display from right to left 2 times in order to display all apps, including hidden ones.

Method 2: via an app managing your home screen (for example, Apex Launcher)

  1. Open the app bar (usually it can be done by pressing the center button of your device).
  2. At the bottom of the screen find the icon with six or more dots and tap it.
  3. Now open the menu which can be usually found somewhere on top and it can look like dots, horizontal bars or a gear
  4. In the opened menu select "Show hidden apps". If there is nothing like this, then most likely there is a separate menu section for hidden apps, after opening which a list with them will be displayed.

The potential harm of hidden apps

Almost any app installed from an unreliable source can poses a threat for your device. Therefore, we strongly advise to use proven services like Google Play. An app is unlikely to be automatically added to the list of hidden ones on its own, so if you suspect that your phone is under attack through any program, we suggest checking it via an antivirus.

The guide on removing viruses from your phone

Previously we have listed so-called camouflage apps which are able to disguise other programs and folders. The list isn't complete, so if you find an app in your system which you haven't installed, shut it down and search for information on it in Google.

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