Apps masquerading as legitimate third-party programs like Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Tetris, Need for Speed, and others are part of a so-called "RuFraud" scam in which unknowing victims are charged premium SMS fees. This has reportedly been going on for the past few months, mainly in Europe, and it's something Google is cracking down on by removing offending apps from the Android Market.
Lookout, a mobile security firm in San Francisco, notified Google of 22 RuFraud apps, and then discovered a handful more. These initially consisted of horoscope apps with a well hidden ToS disclaiming premium charges and only one option to continue, but have quickly spread to dozens of other types of programs. The scam appears to have originated in Russia.
"In the last week we have notified Google of 9 identical applications that were skinned to appear more appealing to potential users: three wallpaper apps for popular movies (including Twilight), and three apps purporting to be downloaders for popular games such as Angry Birds and Cut the Rope," Lookout said in a blog post. "Google responded quickly to our reports and pulled these apps from the Android Market. At the time of removal these applications had only been downloaded by a handful of users, and the severity of the threat was still very low."
More than a dozen additional RuFraud apps posing as free versions of popular games followed overnight and were also pulled, but not before the entire scam notched over 14,000 downloads, Lookout estimates.
Some believe the issue underscores a growing problem with the Android Market
"The flexibility of the Android Market is great, but that comes at a potential price to security," David Emm, a security researcher for Kaspersky, told the U.K.'s BBC. "It will become a potentially bigger problem in the future. Android's market share is going up, and so is the number of malware-infected mobile software."