Android app vetting is still weak, says security developer

Criminals inspired by Google's OS, says Trusteer CEO

Google should urgently overhaul the weak application vetting that has allowed a clutch of bogus apps to sneak onto user's phones through the Market and third-party sites, the CEO of banking security specialist Trusteer has warned.

The important elements needed for serious fraud have been in place for some time, CEO Mickey Boodaei writes in a long blog, including poor vetting and unregulated third-party markets from which apps can be downloaded with few guarantees.

According to Boodaei, this makes it more surprising that Google can still take weeks to react to reports of fraudulent applications, and sometimes doesn't respond at all when applications were reported through the official form.

"In order to take down applications in Google Market we actually had to use contacts within Google which are not available to the average user," said Boodaei. "The process of identifying and removing malicious applications from the Android Market requires major improvements."

After a recent clutch of proof-of-concept attacks using rogue apps, the next big test for Android would come as applications such as online banking grew in popularity, Boodaei said.

Boodaei predicted that in one to two years as much as five percent of Android-based Smartphones and tablets could find themselves infected with mobile malware once criminals integrated mobile operating systems into the exploit kits that today target Windows users.

The ease with which applications can bypass the authentication mechanisms built into Android by using third-party download sites was underlined by a rogue app that recently adopted Trusteer's brand to lull users into using it. That particular app - a man-in-the-middle attack integrated with the Zeus banking malware - was incredibly difficult for users to detect.

Trusteer's model is to embed the security layer into the banking gateway tied to an application, Rapport, that runs on the user's PC or smartphone. This detects and secures users against attacks trying to compromise banking apps rather than making second-guesses about app behaviour in the style of conventional all-purpose security apps.

"Anti-malware solutions for mobile phones are hardly the answer to this problem. These solutions are not much different than their PC counterparts," said Boodaei. "As mobile malware numbers increase we're about to face the very same problem we're currently facing with desktop anti-virus solutions- low effectiveness."

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