Danger lurks for the unwary updating apps

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 November, 2011, 12:00am


A host of nasty internet threats await unwary Android smartphone users when they update their applications, a computer security firm warned at a briefing yesterday.

The number of items of malware, or malicious software - viruses, worms and Trojan horses - has grown as phones powered by the Android operating system become more popular, said Patrick Chan, assistant marketing manager of security company F-Secure. 'Viruses usually take the form of free apps,' he warned.

The number of viruses detected by F-Secure has surged from several dozen cases last year to hundreds this year, said Goh Su-gim, F-Secure's Asia security adviser.

In March, at least 50 virus-tainted applications were found on Android Market, the main source of downloaded applications for Adroid devices. The applications were downloaded by 200,000 users in the four days it took managers to discover the problem and halt it, Chan said. The infected apps were presented as if they were free copies of legitimate, paid applications.

He said it was risky to download apps from any website other than the app-maker's official platform. One Trojan horse, which F-Secure calls Hong Tou Tou, makes infected phones vulnerable to hackers, who can then see the users' text conversations. Embedded in software for games, it was found on a mainland internet site.

While the Mac platform faces fewer virus attacks than Windows, Goh said Macs were far from trouble-free. One Trojan horse is disguised as software that scans Mac computers for security threats - MacDefender, MacSecurity, MacProtector and MacGuard. It pretends to do scans, and warns users about viruses that do not exist, aiming to trick people into paying for fake software.

Another Trojan horse is disguised as an installer for Flash Player software. Once installed on a Mac computer, it redirects internet users to a fake Google page with pop-up windows and advertisements.

Malware-loaded apps also appear on Facebook. Some claim they enable users to check who viewed their profiles or deleted them as a friend, but they are fakes: the social networking site allows no such functions.