Security company Symantec discovered Wednesday the imitation of the malware-removal tool called Android Market Security Tool, which Google released last week. Symantec found the repackaged version on China-based, third-party markets that are not sanctioned by Google.
"What we're seeing is fairly clever malware writers riding the wake of the wave of the publicity from the malware removal tool," Joe Chen, director of engineering of Symantec's Security Response unit, said in an interview Thursday.
The application appeared to be able to send text messages from the phone, if instructed to by a command-and-control server that is running in an unknown physical location. Symantec said the code used to write the application is based on a project hosted by Google and licensed under the open-source Apache License, a development the company called "shocking" on its official blog. Symantec is calling the malware Android.Bgserv.
Google, the creator of the Android operating system, released the original Android Market Security Tool last week to Android smartphone users whose devices had been infected by malware discovered in the official Android Market. Dubbed DroidDream, RootCager, and myournet by various security researchers, the malware is estimated to have been downloaded by between 50,000 and 200,000 people through one or more of the 52 infected apps on the market.
The apps were available for four days before Google used its "kill switch" to remove them, the first time Google has taken such a step to delete malware. The malicious code exploited flaws found only in phones running versions of Android older than v2.2.2.
Google has been criticized for its hands-off, automated approach to posting apps in the market, which critics say has resulted in more poor-quality apps than exist in Apple's strictly monitored App Store. With malware becoming a serious problem, Google has said it is working on additional security measures, but has not provided details on what steps it would take.
The recent malware problem on the Android Market is "more of an exception than the norm" and the risk of downloading malware is still low, Chen said. "The chance of you getting malicious code installed on your Android via a channel that is not officially supported by Google is much, much higher." He said.
Nevertheless, Google's open approach to Android, making it available to anyone who wants to customize it for a smartphone or build an app for the OS, does leave the technology more vulnerable to hackers than a tightly controlled proprietary system, such as Apple's iOS in the iPhone, experts say.