FALSE ALARM: Millions Of Android Apps Are Not Infected

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Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider

Guess what? Millions of downloaded apps are NOT infected with a newly found bit of malware as Symantec claimed last week.The thing Symantec thought was a Trojan was really a way for developers to place ads into free ad-supported versions of their apps, Symantec has now admitted, after several other security researchers questioned its findings.

Symantec singled out three publishers and 13 of their applications, accusing them of being malicious apps hosting that Trojan. These 13 apps had been downloaded 1 million to 5 million times, Symantec said, so the story was widely reported that millions of Android phones had been infected.

The publishers falsely accused were iApps7, Ogre Games and redmicapps and they are irate.  On Ogre Games’ Deal & Be Millionaire game, the publisher posted this note: “WE ARE NOT MALWARE!! Symantec, the company that wrongly labelled[sic] this app as malware the other day, have contacted us and are in the process of un-doing the mistake they did and whitelabling our product.”

To be fair to Symantec, the ad module wasn’t exactly behaving perfectly, defends Roger Thompson, chief emerging threats researcher at ICSA Labs in a blog post. The adware reportedly could download extra features without asking permission, so it looked like a Trojan. That feature has apparently been removed.

“I think it is an easy mistake to make,” he wrote,  But he also points out that before labelling an app as malware it has to be “doing something it shouldn’t, such as hooking keystrokes, sending premium SMS texts.”

Symantec also made a good point in its blog post that defended its red alert. This kind of Android adware is a lot like the adware/spyware that plagued Windows during the early days of the Internet. Antivirus vendors now routinely block that stuff — or at least warn users attempting to download it.

Symantec contacted Google and recommended removing apps with this code from the Android Market.

“Google replied quickly informing us the applications met their Terms of Service and they will not be removed,” Symantec wrote.

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