Report: Malware-infected Android apps spike in the Google Play store

Where's My Droid and Speed Night were cited as the most downloaded malicious apps

Bow before your scrumptious Android god.

Bow before your scrumptious Android god.

The number of mobile apps infected with malware in Google's Play store nearly quadrupled between 2011 and 2013, a security group has reported.

In 2011, there were approximately 11,000 apps in Google's mobile marketplace that contained malicious software capable of stealing people's data and committing fraud, according to the results of a study published Wednesday by RiskIQ, an online security services company. By 2013, more than 42,000 apps in Google's store contained spyware and information-stealing Trojan programs, researchers said.

Apps designed to personalize people's Android-based phones were most susceptible, as well as entertainment and gaming apps. Some of the most malicious apps in the Google Play store downloaded since 2011 were Wallpaper Dragon Ball, a wallpaper app, and the games Finger Hockey and Subway Surfers Free Tips.

Both Wallpaper Dragon Ball and Finger Hockey, RiskIQ said, have malware that steals confidential information such as device IDs from infected devices. Subway Surfers Free Tips, meanwhile, uses a Trojan called Air Push to bypass a device's security settings and subscribe infected phones to premium services, the company said.

RiskIQ performed its analysis using its own software that crawls app stores, websites and web ads. The technology, the company said, exposes malware that would otherwise not show itself to traditional web crawler software.

Android apps were only counted as being malicious if they behaved in specific ways as a result of malware. The behavior may include: collecting and sending GPS coordinates, contact lists and e-mail addresses to third parties; recording phone conversations and sending them to attackers; taking control of the infected phone; or downloading other malware onto the phone.

Apps in Apple's store were not analyzed.

The findings show that the rising prominence of mobile apps among consumers also makes them a juicy target for hackers. Reports of possible malware in clones of the popular Flappy Bird mobile game recently surfaced, even after it was removed from app stores.

"The explosive growth of mobile apps has attracted a criminal element looking for new ways to distribute malware that can be used to commit fraud, identity theft and steal confidential data," said RiskIQ CEO Elias Manousos, in announcing the findings.

Malicious apps are an effective way to infect users, he said, since they often exploit the trust people have in brands and companies they do business with.

But while the number of malicious Android apps is rising, the percentage of them removed by Google is on the decline, researchers said. In 2011 Google removed 60 percent of malicious apps, but in 2013 the company removed less than a quarter of them, the report said.

That's probably due to the rapid increase in malicious software. The overall number of malicious apps removed by Google still increased from roughly 7,000 in 2011 to nearly 10,000 in 2013.

Google said it would need more information about RiskIQ's analysis to comment on the findings.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Internet-based applications and servicessocial networkinginternetspywaremobilemalwaresearch enginesmobile applicationsGoogleconsumer electronicssecurityMobile OSesgames

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Zach Miners

IDG News Service

Most Popular Reviews

Follow Us

Best Deals on GoodGearGuide

Shopping.com

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Latest Jobs

Shopping.com

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?