June 13, 2011, 6:55 AM — Google removed more malware-infected applications from its Android Market last week, according to a security researcher who reported the rogue software to the company.
On June 5, Google yanked 10 apps from the market after Xuxian Jiang, an assistant professor in computer science at North Carolina State University, reported his findings to the company.
Jiang published an analysis of the malicious code, dubbed "Plankton," in a blog post last Thursday.
Andrew Brandt, lead threat research analyst at Webroot, has also dug into Plankton.
"It has the ability to remotely access a command-and-control [C&C] server for instructions, and upload additional payloads," Brandt said in an interview Friday. "It uses a very stealthy method to push any malware it wants to phone."
Unlike other code embedded in apps that have appeared in the market, Plankton doesn't rely on a vulnerability to "root," or gain complete control of the smartphone , said Brandt. Once the victim has installed the bogus app, however, Plankton can call in other files from the hacker-controlled server, including ones that would exploit one or more unpatched Android bugs.
"This is pretty serious," Brandt said.
Plankton also harvests data from the phone, including the bookmarks, bookmark history and home page of the device's built-in browser .
All 10 of the apps that Google pulled after Jiang's report purported to be add-ons or cheats for the popular mobile game "Angry Birds" from Finnish game company Rovio. None of the apps actually provided their promised functionality, however, but were simply the delivery vehicles for Plankton.
Plankton was not the first Android attack code that Jiang and his team have reported to Google.
Also on June 5, Jiang told Google of finding apps infected with "DroidKungFu" on unauthorized Chinese app stores, then two days later followed with a report of "YZHCSMS," a Trojan horse that racks up bills by sending hidden text messages to premium numbers.
DroidKungFu uses the same pair of exploits to root the smartphone as "DroidDream," the name given to the first malware bundled with apps in the Android Market.