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Chinese cops cuff teen over Heart App Android malware flap

Reportedly infected 100,000 phones in just a few days

Cartoon of  green skeletal figure reaching out of phone

Chinese authorities have arrested a 19-year-old suspected of unleashing a fast spreading strain of malware that infects Android smartphones.

Police told Chinese newspapers including Sina.com that "Li", a 19-year-old software engineering student, was cuffed in Shenzhen on suspicion of creating the Heart App Android malware within a day of its release.

The Heart App mobile malware poses as an invitation from a friend or contact to arrange a romantic hook-up. In reality, the Android nasty sends a text message to a download link to the first 99 contacts in a compromised Android users' address book. As with email worm of the past, this is the sort of behaviour that has the potential to quickly snowball.

Chinese mobile telephone operators including China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom have already reportedly blocked over 20 million messages, with "at least 100,000 phones infected".

All this happens in the background. Victims, who would be blissfully unaware anything was amiss until they started getting complaints from their friends, are invited to "register", a process that involves submitting personal information. This data is sent to a control number via SMS. Registration fails to grant victims access to any dating functionality, which is non-existent.

Heart App also attempts to induce victims into installing secondary malware, another malware package that is bundled inside the virus itself, that poses as a "resource pack" but is actually spyware. Part of the reason the mobile malware spread so quickly may have had to do with the absence of an official Google Play marketplace in China, according to security veteran Paul Ducklin.

"With Google Play not officially available in China, alternative Android markets have flourished, and, by all accounts, Chinese users are accustomed to running their Android phones with the Allow installation of apps from unknown sources option enabled," Ducklin explains in a post on Sophos' Naked Security blog. ®

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