Mac App Store App 'Adware Doctor' Discovered Stealing User Browsing History [Update: Removed]

The number one top-selling paid Utilities app on the Mac App Store in the United States has been found to steal the browser history of anyone who downloads it, and is still on the App Store as of this article. A video posted in August gave a proof of concept to how the app "Adware Doctor" steals user data, and security researcher Patrick Wardle has now looked into the app and shared his findings with TechCrunch.

adware doctor mas
Adware Doctor's Mac App Store page says it will "keep your Mac safe" and "get rid of annoying pop-up ads." Besides being at the top of the Utilities chart on the Mac App Store, Adware Doctor is also currently the number five top paid app on the entire store in the U.S., behind apps like Notability and Apple's own Final Cut Pro.

In his blog post, Wardle explains that Adware Doctor withdraws sensitive user data -- predominantly any website you've searched for and browsed on -- and sends it to servers in China run by the app's makers. Apple was contacted a month ago -- around the time the original proof of concept video was shared online -- and promised it would investigate, but the $4.99 app remains on the Mac App Store.

TechCrunch gave an overview of Wardle's findings:

Wardle found that the downloaded app jumped through hoops to bypass Apple’s Mac sandboxing features, which prevents apps from grabbing data on the hard drive, and upload a user’s browser history on Chrome, Firefox, and Safari browsers.

Wardle found that the app, thanks to Apple’s own flawed vetting, could request access to the user’s home directory and its files. That isn’t out of the ordinary, Wardle says, because tools that market themselves as anti-malware or anti-adware expect access to the user’s files to scan for problems. When a user allows that access, the app can detect and clean adware — but if found to be malicious, it can “collect and exfiltrate any user file,” said Wardle.

Once the data is collected, it’s zipped into an archive file and sent to a domain based in China.

Towards the end of his post, Wardle discussed the ramifications of Adware Doctor and the privacy issue it presents, stating, "The fact that application has been surreptitiously exfiltrating users' browsing history, possibly for years, is, to put it mildly, rather f----- up!" The researcher also points out that Apple itself touts the Mac App Store as "the safest place to download apps for your Mac," which is often true.

Given the app violates numerous App Store Rules and Guidelines, namely including user consent on data collection, Wardle hopes that the increased spotlight on Adware Doctor's nefarious data collecting will make Apple take action. Even though Mac App Store customers who used the app would never be able to get their private browsing history back, the researcher says that Apple could begin to address the situation "by pulling the app and refunding all affected users."

Update 8:52 a.m. PT: Apple confirmed that Adware Doctor has been removed from the Mac App Store, along with the developer's other app "AdBlock Master."

Top Rated Comments

themcfly Avatar
29 months ago
And that is what happens when you install a security software in a system that doesn't really need one.
Score: 62 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Bornee35 Avatar
29 months ago


Attachment Image
Score: 31 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Jimmy James Avatar
29 months ago
Why does it always have to be a server in China?
Score: 22 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Trusteft Avatar
29 months ago
Chinese software, who could have imagined it being a security issue!
Score: 21 Votes (Like | Disagree)
stevie grant Avatar
29 months ago
Don't worry. Apple will always do the right thing.

Eventually. Either under penalty of the law, or due to public shaming.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Logic368 Avatar
29 months ago
Why does the Mac App Store still exist? It only has ****** scam apps and nothing that you actually need. Furthermore, you’re supposed to trust the App Store, because it’s “curated”, but then this kind of stuff happens. It would be better if Apple simply posted a “Gallery” of apps, like they do for safari extensions.
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

apple top apps games 2020

Apple Shares Top 20 Most Downloaded Games and Apps of 2020

Tuesday December 1, 2020 9:38 pm PST by
Alongside picks for the top iPhone, iPad, and Mac apps and games of the year, Apple today shared charts featuring the Top Games of 2020 and the Top Apps of 2020, revealing the most popular free and paid apps and games during the year. Among Us! was the top free game of 2020, followed by Call of Duty: Mobile, Roblox, and Subway Surfers. Ink Inc. Tattoo Drawing was the number four free app,...
m1 chip macbook air pro

Developer Delves Into Reasons Why Apple's M1 Chip is So Fast

Monday November 30, 2020 1:57 pm PST by
Apple's M1 chip is the fastest chip that Apple has ever released in a Mac based on single-core CPU benchmark scores, and it beats out many high-end Intel Macs when it comes to multi-core performance. Developer Erik Engheim recently shared a deep dive into the M1 chip, exploring the reasons why Apple's new processor is so much faster than the Intel chips that it replaces. First and foremost,...
iphone8guide b

iOS 14.2 Quietly Added FaceTime 1080p Support to iPhone 8 and Later Models

Wednesday December 2, 2020 3:21 am PST by
Back in early November, Apple released iOS 14.2 and announced with it a slew of new features for iPhones, but one thing it didn't mention was the apparent addition of support for 1080p FaceTime calls on iPhone 8 and later devices. The little-known fact was discovered by MacMagazine, which found that Apple quietly updated the specs pages for devices like iPhone XR shortly after the release of ...
apple briefcase

AppleCare Memo Hints at Potential Hardware Announcement Next Tuesday

Thursday December 3, 2020 9:12 am PST by
Following a busy fall season in which Apple hosted three events in as many months, the company may have one more product announcement in store this year. In an internal memo this week, obtained by MacRumors from a reliable source, Apple informed service providers that it has AppleCare-related changes planned for Tuesday, December 8 at approximately 5:30 a.m. Pacific Time. Specifically, Apple ...
best apps of 2020

Wakeout! Named Apple's Best App of 2020, While Zoom Earns the Title for Best iPad App

Tuesday December 1, 2020 9:26 pm PST by
Apple today shared its App Store Best of 2020 winners, highlighting its picks for the top iOS, iPadOS, and macOS apps and games released over the course of the year. Apple's iPhone App of the Year award went to Wakeout!, which is a family friendly exercise and movement app that encourages people to complete easy exercises while at home. Apple's iPad App of the Year was Zoom, which soared in...
16 inch MBP Mini Led

Kuo: Two Redesigned MacBook Pros in 2021 and New MacBook Air in 2022, All With Apple Silicon and Mini-LED Displays

Wednesday December 2, 2020 5:46 am PST by
Apple plans to release two redesigned MacBook Pros in 2021 and a new MacBook Air in 2022, all with mini-LED displays and Apple Silicon chips, according to TFI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. In a research note to investors, seen by MacRumors, Kuo explained that two new MacBook Pro models equipped with an all-new form factor design are expected to launch in 2021, and a new "affordable"...
iOS 14

Apple Releases Third Betas of iOS 14.3 and iPadOS 14.3 to Developers [Update: Public Beta Available]

Wednesday December 2, 2020 10:04 am PST by
Apple today seeded the third betas of upcoming iOS 14.3 and iPadOS 14.3 updates to developers for testing purposes, two weeks after releasing the second betas and a month after the launch of iOS and iPadOS 14.2. iOS and iPadOS 14.3 can be downloaded through the Apple Developer Center or over the air after the proper developer profile has been installed. The iOS 14.3 update brings the...
homepod mini amazon echo size

$99 Speaker Showdown: HomePod Mini vs. Amazon Echo and Google Nest Audio

Wednesday December 2, 2020 3:12 pm PST by
Apple recently released the HomePod mini, a new $99 version of the original HomePod that's smaller, cuter, and, most importantly, competitively priced. At $99, the HomePod mini can better compete with affordable smart speakers from companies like Google and Amazon. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. The HomePod mini has been praised for its high-quality sound at its...
Mac Mini 2018

Apple Developers Now Able to Natively Run macOS Within AWS With Amazon EC2 Mac Instances

Monday November 30, 2020 9:01 pm PST by
As AWS re:Invent kicks off, Amazon Web Services today announced new Mac instances for Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud, allowing AWS customers to run on-demand macOS workloads in the AWS cloud for the first time. Amazon says that the new feature extends the flexibility, scalability, and cost benefits of AWS to all Apple developers as those creating apps for iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, Apple...
magsafe duo charger

MagSafe Duo Charger for iPhone 12 and Apple Watch Now Available for Purchase

Tuesday December 1, 2020 4:15 pm PST by
Apple today began selling the MagSafe Duo Charger that was announced alongside the new iPhone 12 models back in October. Priced at $129, the MagSafe Duo offers a MagSafe charging puck for the iPhone 12, 12 Pro, 12 Pro Max, and 12 mini, along with an Apple Watch charger. Though the accessory was announced in October and was listed as coming soon, it was not clear when it would launch. Orders...