Feeds

Android malware attacks show perils of Google openness

Is there a vetter in the house?

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

This week's discovery of malware that hijacked tens of thousands of Android cellphones shows the pitfalls of Google's decision to make the operating system the Wikipedia of mobile platforms that offers apps written by virtually anyone.

A couple years ago, the choice helped the OS gain traction against Apple's more entrenched iPhone by quickly building out the number of apps available in the Android Market. Once developers pay a $25 registration fee, Google gives them “complete control over when and how they make their applications available to users.” Contrast that with Apple's App Store, which the company rules with an iron fist.

The recent discovery of some 55 malware-tainted apps available in the Android Market shines a bright light on the dark side of its openness. The malware hid in legitimate titles that had been repackaged and distributed by three developers. Once installed, the apps exploited known vulnerabilities that gave the malware root access to a phone's most sensitive functions, according to this analysis from Lookout, which provides antimalware apps for Android, Blackberry and Windows Mobile handsets.

A separate analysis provided by antivirus firm Kaspersky Labs said that DreamDroid, as the malware has been dubbed, connected to a server controlled by the attackers, where it appeared to access “a list of applications to download and install on the already infected device.” In other words, DreamDroid is a classic trojan backdoor downloader. The infected apps were downloaded by phones that numbered in the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands, according to Market figures.

The mass infections are already prompting commentary comparing Android to Microsoft Windows.

“The openness of the platform and the availability of alternative application markets makes Android-based devices more difficult to secure,” security researcher Vanja Svajcer wrote on Sophos's Naked Security blog. “The whole situation reminds me of Windows some years ago. One keeps wondering if history is repeating again?”

If there's any vetting of apps submitted to the Android Market, there's no mention of it on Google's webpages, and the company's PR department didn't respond to questions asking about what kind of scrutiny it gives to software available in its Market. As The Reg has reported before, Google can remotely remove apps on users' Android phones, but by then a handset would already be infected.

And besides, as Lookout CTO and co-founder Kevin Mahaffey noted to The Reg: “The really nasty thing about root exploits is that once you're root you can do things that disable the remote removal tool.” In other words, Google's kill switch can itself be killed.

The episode demonstrates the ugly predicament confronting consumers of smartphone apps. One choice is to opt for the heavy-handed control exercised by Apple's App Store. You may not be able to run Flash-based software, use the alternative browser of your choice, or do any number of other things you want to do, but so far the marketplace, despite being around a lot longer, hasn't presented the kind of security menace we saw this week in Google's apps bazaar.

The Android Market's freewheeling nature, on the other hand, is more appealing to many because it feels more more. More like a stroll down the streets of New York, as opposed to a parade in a Steve Jobs version of Disney Land. Yeah, Android's openness is fun, but only until someone gets hurt. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SMASH the Bash bug! Apple and Red Hat scramble for patch batches
'Applying multiple security updates is extremely difficult'
Apple's new iPhone 6 vulnerable to last year's TouchID fingerprint hack
But unsophisticated thieves need not attempt this trick
Hackers thrash Bash Shellshock bug: World races to cover hole
Update your gear now to avoid early attacks hitting the web
Oracle SHELLSHOCKER - data titan lists unpatchables
Database kingpin lists 32 products that can't be patched (yet) as GNU fixes second vuln
Who.is does the Harlem Shake
Blame it on LOLing XSS terroristas
Researchers tell black hats: 'YOU'RE SOOO PREDICTABLE'
Want to register that domain? We're way ahead of you.
Stunned by Shellshock Bash bug? Patch all you can – or be punished
UK data watchdog rolls up its sleeves, polishes truncheon
Ello? ello? ello?: Facebook challenger in DDoS KNOCKOUT
Gets back up again after half an hour though
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.