Feeds

Android malware attacks show perils of Google openness

Is there a vetter in the house?

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

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. ®

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

More from The Register

next story
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
Early result from Scots indyref vote? NAW, Jimmy - it's a SCAM
Anyone claiming to know before tomorrow is telling porkies
Apple Pay is a tidy payday for Apple with 0.15% cut, sources say
Cupertino slurps 15 cents from every $100 purchase
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
YouTube, Amazon and Yahoo! caught in malvertising mess
Cisco says 'Kyle and Stan' attack is spreading through compromised ad networks
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
China hacked US Army transport orgs TWENTY TIMES in ONE YEAR
FBI et al knew of nine hacks - but didn't tell TRANSCOM
Microsoft to patch ASP.NET mess even if you don't
We know what's good for you, because we made the mess says Redmond
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.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.