Google pulled 21 apps from Android Market that used Trojan horses to steal personal data, download malicious code and secretly repurpose devices. Image: CC myhsu/Flickr

The number of Android malware apps infecting smartphones increased by nearly 50 percent in 2010. On Wednesday, Google pulled 21 Android malware apps from the Android Market, but up to 250,000 Android users may have already downloaded them. The latest Android malware incident has called into question the security of the open Android Market, which allows registered developers to publish whatever they want.

Android malware steals personal data

Android malware was available for download from Android Market for four days before the tech blog Android Police alerted Google of its presence. Google quickly pulled 21 Android malware apps, but an estimated 50,000 to 250,000 Android users downloaded the malicious code. Google has the ability to remove apps remotely from Android devices and did so. However, Android malware has the ability to download code. It is likely that malicious code remains embedded in the affected devices. There is only one way for smartphone users who downloaded the Android malware to ensure their personal data is secure: take the Android device to their carrier and exchange it for a new one.

The Android trojan horse

The 21 Android malware apps were created and posted by a hacker identified by the Android Police as Myournet. Myournet stole copies of popular apps such as Photo Editor, Chess and Advanced Currency Converter and modified them with a Trojan horse. Once the Android malware was downloaded, the Trojan horse, known as a “root exploit,” stole personal information such as the mobile provider and user ID and sent it to the hacker. The Android malware also opens a back door to download code that secretly repurposes the device. For example, an analysis of a Trojan horse called “Android Pjapps” by Symantec found that Chinese hackers used it to hijack the Android app “Steamy Windows.” The Trojan horse infected smartphones and sent invisible text messages to premium rate numbers that would reap commissions for the hackers.

Smartphone security: Android versus Apple

As Android spreads, the open nature of Android apps is developing into a major smartphone security problem for Google. While Apple’s closed system is often criticized, it allows the company to inspect every app in detail before it is allowed for sale in the App Store. Google checks apps occasionally for compliance to its guidelines, but only after they have been circulating in the Android Market.


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