Security Experts:

Rival Says Symantec's Recent Android Malware Warning is Overblown

Rival Claims "Malware" in Question is an Aggressive Form of an Ad Network – Not Malware.

On Friday, Symantec issued a warning to the public that it had found a bot-like threat that can receive commands to carry out certain actions, as well as steal information from infected devices. This threat, called Android.Counterclank by Symantec, is said to have infected 1-5 million users, via 13 different applications. As word of the Android malware started to spread, Symantec’s rival in the mobile protection space – Lookout Mobile Security – disputed their claims as hype.

Apperhand SDK A principal engineer with Lookout, Tim Wyatt, told Computerworld that Symantec’s claims were significantly overblown, adding that the corporate protection giant was premature in their conclusions.

So then, what is Android.Counterclank? Symantec said that the malicious code has been observed in 13 applications; from games such as Counter Strike Ground Force, from published iApps7 Inc., Balloon Game, from Ogre Games, to Sexy Girls Puzzle from redmicapps.

Noting that the 13 allegedly apps have the highest distribution of any malware seen so far this year, Symantec focused on the code that is packaged with the application itself called Apperhand.

“When the package is executed, a service with the same name may be seen running on a compromised device. Another sign of an infection is the presence of the Search icon above on the home screen,” Symantec said in a blog post.

According to Lookout, while the Apperhand SDK observed by Symantec is aggressive, it isn’t malware; it’s an advertising platform.

While the average Android user probably doesn’t want applications that contain Apperhand on his or her phone, Lookout explained, they see no evidence of malicious behavior. Moreover, most if not all of the capabilities attributed to Apperhand, can also be assigned to similar aggressive ad networks.

"We have been looking at exactly this type of behavior. We understand that this type of behavior can be confusing to the average user, but Symantec is inflating that confusion with messages that it's malware,” said Lookout’s senior security product manager, Derek Halliday, told Computerworld.

For now, the best bet is to avoid games created by the publishers mentioned by Symantec, and to stick with the officially licensed application, when it comes to a choice between free and paid.

Lookout said they are working to develop defenses from the aggressive ad networks, but did not mention a timeframe for any countermeasures.

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Steve Ragan is a security reporter and contributor for SecurityWeek. Prior to joining the journalism world in 2005, he spent 15 years as a freelance IT contractor focused on endpoint security and security training.