Print 47 comment(s) - last by YashBudini.. on Mar 10 at 2:40 PM

Company will release special removal tool for affected users, is remotely killing apps

Google is reacting quickly to what is perhaps the largest mass infection of users of its Android OS, yet. Rather than keep quiet, Google quickly pulled the 58 malicious apps, which were repackaged versions of legitimate apps (containing extra malicious APKs designed to grab personal information, obtain root access, and install code remotely).

Now it's take even more strident measures to combat the attack, personally reaching out to affected users.  Google began executing its remote kill functionality on the malicious apps Saturday.

It also pushed out an update to affected users phones, which will remove the installed rootkit.  Google sent the following email [source] to the estimated 260,000 Android users:


We recently discovered applications on Android Market that were designed to harm devices. These malicious applications (“malware”) have been removed from Android Market, and the corresponding developer accounts have been closed.

According to our records, you have downloaded one or more of these applications. This malware was designed to allow an unauthorized third-party to access your device without your knowledge. As far as we can determine, the only information obtained was device-specific (IMEI/IMSI, unique codes which are used to identify mobile devices, and the version of Android running on your device).

However, this malware could leave your device and personal information at risk, so we are pushing an Android Market security update to your device to remove this malware. Over the next few hours, you will receive a notification on your device that says “Android Market Security Tool March 2011” has been installed. You are not required to take any action from there, the update will automatically run. You may also receive notification(s) on your device that an application has been removed. Within 24 hours of receiving the update, you will receive a second email confirming its success.

To ensure this update is run quickly, please make sure that your device is turned on and has a strong network connection.

For more details, please visit the Android Market Help Center.

The Android Market Team

The flaw that allowed the malware to gain root access without asking for permissions was actually fixed by Google with firmware update Android 2.2.1.  Unfortunately carriers have been extremely sluggish at rolling out updates for Android users, and this is the end result.

Google has repackaged the fix as an individual patch and given it to carriers and handset makers.  But it's up to carriers and their hardware partners to push it down to phone customers as the patch will have to be adjusted to individual hardware configurations.  

In other words Google's keeping busy killing the burglars in the house, but back door is still wide open.  At least it's doing something, though, and giving its customers the decency of communication.

Google is also taking steps to make sure similar malware doesn't reappear in the Android Marketplace.  While the company is vague on specifics, it writes:

We are adding a number of measures to help prevent additional malicious applications using similar exploits from being distributed through Android Market and are working with our partners to provide the fix for the underlying security issues.

According to professional hackers and security researchers, most phones and applications markets have the potential to be infiltrated by malware.  

For example, at Nicolas Seriot, a Swiss iPhone expert, has demoed [white paper] at the annual Black Hat conference an app called "SpyPhone", which showed off how easy it would be to sneak malware into the App Store.  It is unknown if this is being actively done, but Mr. Seriot's whitepaper offered obfuscation code that disguised disallowed strings, offering hackers a clear path to getting their malware into the App Store (the only other necessary steps would be a delayed activation of the malicious activity, and avoidance of using private APIs).

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RE: Googles done decently
By Tony Swash on 3/7/2011 7:23:21 PM , Rating: -1
I have an HTC EVO and it requires my permission to install updates.

No malware like the Android crap has appeared on iOS (except for jailbreakers)

I doubt that.

Lack of proof is not proof in and of itself that something doesn't exist.

Apple's screen eliminates *obvious* malware, but more subtle malware using string obfuscation, no internal APIs, no core system calls, and remote post-mortem activation would pass through scott-free. See white papers from recent Black Hat conventions, Tony.

The thing is, Apple eliminates dumb malware. The smart ones you'd never hear about.

Systems that check for malware in advance of distribution are never perfect but are always safer than systems that don't check for malware in advance of distribution.

Google checks its apps pre-approval, just not to the extent Apple tests them. It's misleading to suggest it doesn't screen, though, if that's what you're trying to say.

So let me get this right. Google says it checked the content and then installed a security update on a couple of hundred thousands Android phones and then informed their owners that it had done so after the fact and your interpretation of that based on the way that your phone handles updates is that - well at that point you lost me.

My reading of what Google announced it has done is that Google has a system whereby it could reach out to a vast swathe of Android phones, presumaably on different handsets and with different carriers because the malicious code could have been installed by anybody, check the content of said phones and then delete and install code/apps at will. And at no point were the phone's owners asked if this was OK. All the owners got was a message telling them it happened.

If Google is telling the truth that seems a big deal to me. They are using that power for good in this example but did any of you Android handset users know they had such power and such capabilities and what are the privacy issues here?

As to your claim that malware must exist on the iphone, even though there is no evidence of it existing, that just seems desperate and irrational. If we ignore actual evidence we can claim anything - perhaps it was Elvis who distributed the Android malware from the secret bases on the moon.

Trying to pretend that Android is as secure or more secure than iOS is silly and intellectually cowardly. Why not just say 'I still prefer the Android model to iOS but this is an example of the downside to choosing Android'. That seems a more honest position than your bizarre dissembling.

RE: Googles done decently
By Alexstarfire on 3/7/2011 11:06:44 PM , Rating: 2
Kinda have to agree with Tony on this one. Remote kill is one thing since several platforms seem to have that. I still think that is dumb btw, but that's something else all together. No company/person should be able to install something on my stuff remotely without my permission. It's like giving the government a backdoor into your phone. Sure, they could do good with it, but is that really the point? Moreover, backdoors almost always end up getting used for evil.

I wonder if they can do this on any phone with Android, even with rooted phones and such?

RE: Googles done decently
By themaster08 on 3/8/2011 3:06:15 AM , Rating: 2
I kinda agree too. That's probably one of the most rational and unbiased posts from Tony I've ever seen.

However, since this remote kill has been pushed without user acknowledgement or intervention, as you said, several platforms have this. This could have already have been done on any device, including those from Apple, Microsoft, HP, and so on, and we may not know it.

The only reason we know of it in this scenario is due to the severity of the issue, and Google's public response.

"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
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