Google clearing up more Android malware

Another round of malware-packed apps on the Android Market is raising questions about Google's approach to security.

Google has had to remove yet more malware-infected apps offered in its Android Market. As spotted by the Lookout Security Team, 50 applications were infected by a variation of the DroidDream malware that hit in March. Lookout is referring to the new malware as DroidDreamLight and says up to 120,000 Android users might have been affected.

The modus operandi is the same as the earlier outbreak: Malware authors take an existing app, add-in malware, and then relist the app for free. The low entry barrier for Android developers makes this easy to do: All malware authors need do is sign-up to Google's developer program, which can be achieved using fraudulent details, and then hand over just $25 to publish their work. Google performs no checks on apps before they're released, unlike Apple, which checks every single app offered for download in its iOS App Store.

The malware outbreak isn't going to do much to help Google's battle with third-party app stores, such as that offered by Amazon. Amazon recently stepped-up the battle to win Android users, boasting the exclusive rights for the popular Plants vs Zombies game.

The Amazon app store also has some extra security against malware apps. Amazon charges $99 to developers that want to release apps, which might deter some opportunistic hackers, although the first year is currently free-of-charge. However, Amazon also tests each app before it's listed in the store.

Ironically, users are required to lower a security setting on their device to allow access to the Amazon app store in the first place. That could theoretically open the device to the likes of drive-by infections, where malware is downloaded when a user simply visits a particular website.

Despite the risk to customers, Graham Cluely -- Senior Technology Consultant for computer security outfit Sophos -- thinks malware isn't considered a big issue for users, although he says Google needs to be tread carefully from this point onwards.

"If one particular platform became infamous for malware," he says, "And another continued largely malware-free, then that may become a factor. You could equate it to how Apple used to run adverts about how you got viruses on a PC, but not on a Mac, for instance."

However, he's critical of both Apple's 'lockdown' approach that can make life difficult for developers, and Google's more laissez faire attitude.

"Many Android users may have deliberately chosen to go with that OS rather than Apple's iPhone iOS because of the more relaxed attitude to apps," he says, "Personally I would like to see Google take a more "hands-on" approach to app security. If they don't, the malware problem is only likely to get worse."

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Keir Thomas

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