Google throws 'kill switch' on Android phones
That app, which will be installed automatically no later than Tuesday on all Android phones whose owners had downloaded one or more of the malicious apps, prevents attackers from accessing any additional information by undoing the root access the malware obtained by exploiting vulnerabilities.
The Android Market Security Tool March 2011 does not patch the underlying bugs that were exploited by the malware-infected apps, said Mahaffey, but does appear to remove traces of the malicious code that aren't erased when the apps are uninstalled. Lookout is continuing to dig into Google's tool for more insight into its workings.
According to Google, Android 2.2.2 and earlier contains the bug, but later versions, including Android 2.3, aka "Gingerbread," do not.
Unlike Apple, Google does not distribute its own mobile operating system updates, whether security-related or otherwise, but relies on carriers to do so. Google launched Android 2.3 in December 2010, but as of mid-February, the bulk of Android phones -- nearly 90% by Google's numbers -- were still running older, and thus vulnerable, versions of the operating system because carriers often take months to roll out Android updates.
Analysts have also blamed Google's lax app publishing policy for allowing the infected software onto the Android Marketplace.
"Google will change its model," said John Pescatore, a security analyst with Gartner Research, referring to Google's current practice of not vetting the apps listed in the market. In contrast, Apple closely reviews all apps that it places in its App Store, which is also the only sanctioned outlet for the iPhone.
"Google's search engine tells users when it suspects a site might be distributing malware," Pescatore noted. "That's what the market wants in a search engine and in mobile. People don't want to say, 'Oh oh, should I download this app?' They just want to say, 'That's a cool app, I'll download it.'"
Pescatore also knocked Google for resorting to pushing the security tool to users after the fact. "That's the worst of both worlds, if Google says 'We'll continue to let anything in the Market, but then says, 'Download this [anti-malware] app,'" said Pescatore. "Don't force us back to the bad ways of the PC.
"It's so much better to keep the bad stuff off in the first place," Pescatore said. "Come on, Google."
Mahaffey, however, applauded Google's decision to automatically install the tool. "Hats off to Google," he said today.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Why Samsung needs to move beyond Android -- and Google
- Samsung Gear Live vs. LG G Watch: A real-world evaluation
- Android Wear deep-dive review: A smart start to smartwatch software
- OnePlus One deep-dive review: Unbeatable value for Android geeks
- Review: 5 video editing apps for Android
- Malware-infected Android apps spike in the Google Play store
- Nokia plans forked Android smartphone for Barcelona unveiling
- LG G Flex deep-dive review: The curious case of the curved phone
- Xperia Z1S deep-dive review: A stylish phone with power and panache
- Low-end smartphone battle forces Nokia to Android
Read more about Security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.
- Enable secure remote access to 3D data without sacrificing visual perfomance Design and manufacturing companies must adapt quickly to the demands of an increasingly global and competitive economy. To speed time to market for...
- Virtually Delivered High Performance 3D Graphics "A picture is worth a thousand words." That old phrase is as true today as it ever was. Pictures (i.e., those with heavy...
- Best Practices for Securing Hadoop Historically, Apache Hadoop has provided limited security capabilities. To protect sensitive data being stored and analyzed in Hadoop, security architects should use a...
- Top Tips for Securing Big Data Environments: Why Big Data Doesn't Have to Mean Big Security Challenges Organizations must come to terms with the security challenges they introduce. As big data environments ingest more data, organizations will face significant risks...
- What should I look for in a Next Generation Firewall? SANS Provides Guidance With so many vendors claiming to have a Next Generation Firewall (NGFW), it can be difficult to tell what makes each one different....
- Responding to New SSL Cybersecurity Threat The featured Gartner research examines current strategies to address new SSL cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities. All Security White Papers | Webcasts
Our new bimonthly Internet of Things newsletter helps you keep pace with the rapidly evolving technologies, trends and developments related to the IoT. Subscribe now and stay up to date!