More than 50 applications containing malware have been discovered in Google's application market for its Android mobile OS, a sign that hackers are hard at work trying to compromise mobile devices.
The 50 or so applications, which came from three rogue publishers, appear to have repackaged some legitimate applications with code called "DroidDream," which can export a slew of data from a device, according to a blog post from Lookout Mobile Security. Lookout provides a list of the affected applications, many of which have adult-themed titles such as "Super Sexy Ringtones" and "Screaming Sexy Japanese Girls."
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Lookout says the affected apps were discovered by a person with the handle "Lompolo," who wrote about the issue on the Reddit website.
Some of the applications appear identical to the original ones, but come from different publishers going by the names of "Kingmall2010," "we20090202" and "Myournet."
"I just randomly stumbled into one of the apps, recognized it and noticed that the publisher wasn't who it was supposed to be," Lompolo wrote.
Google has apparently begun pulling some of the suspect applications. It is also possible for Google to remotely kill Android applications installed on phones, but Lookout wrote that "we recently learned that the remote removal system has not yet been engaged for these applications because they are under active investigation." Google officials contacted in London did not have an immediate comment.
Lompolo wrote that two of the applications analyzed contained a root exploit called "rageagainstthecage" that contained a text string "CVE-2010-EASY Android local root exploit (C) 2010 by 743C." The vulnerability that the exploit takes advantage of has been patched by Google. However, the exploit would still be effective against unpatched devices.
Using that exploit, the phones were then infected with DroidDream, which is code that sends information such as a phone's International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number and International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI), a unique code held inside a phone's SIM card, to a remote server located in Fremont, California, according to Lompolo.
Android runs applications in a "sandbox," the term for running applications with a restricted set of privileges, but Lompolo wrote that the two applications were able to break out of it.
But since DroidDream has root-level access to the phone, virtually any data on the phone could be stolen, and importantly, other malware could be uploaded to the device, according to further analysis done by the website Android Police.
Android Police found another file installed in one of the affected applications that can steal product IDs, phone model details, operator information, language used on the phone plus other data.
Several malicious applications have been found in third-party markets for Android applications, particularly aimed at Chinese-speaking Android users. Last month, Lookout said it had found that popular mobile games such as Monkey Jump are being illegally copied and repackaged with code designed to steal personal information or perform other malicious functions.
In December, Lookout found a piece of Android malware called "Geinimi" that contained functions similar to botnet code designed for a PC and communicated with a remote command-and-control server. More variants of Geinimi have appeared since then, a sign that hackers are continually developing its code.
Google does not review applications before submission to its official Android Market. That is in sharp contrast to Apple and its App Store, which has a rigorous review process that can take at times several weeks for an application to be vetted.
Google's rationale is that it removes barriers for developers that delays putting their applications in the hands of users and encourages fast innovation.
Nonetheless, the recent rash of malware could make Google reconsider, even as users continue to be encouraged to patrol the Android Market and report suspicious applications.
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