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‘Agent Smith’ Android malware infected 25M devices

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A new strain of Android malware has infected 25 million devices and modified legitimate apps with a malicious ads module, according to a report by the security company Check Point.

It’s believed the malware originated from a Chinese internet company that helps Chinese Android developers publish and promote their apps in foreign markets. The malware was disguised as Google-related updaters and “vending modules,” which hid its own app icons and automatically replaced already-installed legitimate apps with its own version without the user knowing. This lead the researchers to name the malware “Agent Smith” because its behavior is similar to the character in the film The Matrix of the same name.

The malware first appeared in popular third-party app store 9Apps and targeted mostly Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi users. However, of the 25 million affected devices, 303,000 infections were detected in the US, and 137,000 in the UK.

Apps that were modified include WhatsApp, Opera Mini, Flipkart, as well as software from Lenovo and Swiftkey. The malware detected which apps were installed, patched them with a malicious ads modules, and then re-installed them on the device. For the user, it simply looks like the app is being updated as expected. Once the update is complete, the owner of the malware can then profit from the newly included ads.

Check Point believes the same malware could also be used for more malicious purposes such as credit card theft, with the company’s report stating, “due to [the malware’s] ability to hide its icon from the launcher and impersonates any popular existing apps on a device, there are endless possibilities for this sort of malware to harm a user’s device.”

The security firm says they submitted data to Google and law enforcement agencies, and as of publishing no malicious apps remain on the Play Store. Nevertheless, the malware managed to survive for as long as it did because, despite the original vulnerability Agent Smith was based on being patched in Android years ago, developers did not sufficiently update their applications.

Malware like this, “requires attention and action from system developers, device manufacturers, app developers, and users, so that vulnerability fixes are patched, distributed, adopted and installed in time,” Check Point says.

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This article originally published at PCMag
here

YouTube lands on Fire TV and Amazon Prime Video arrives on Chromecast, Android TV

It’s nice when people can come together and work through their differences to make it easier to watch stuff. That’s exactly what happened today, when the long-standing detente between Google and Amazon over streaming video services came to an end, with YouTube arriving on Fire TV and Prime Video making its way to Chromecast and Android TV.

Amazon’s second-generation Fire TV Stick, their Fire TV Stick 4K, the Fire TV Cube, Fire TV Stick Basic Edition and Fire TV Edition smart TVs made by partner OEMs will all get support for the official YouTube app globally starting today, and Amazon intends to extend support to even more of its hardware in future. YouTube TV and YouTube Kids will also come to Amazon Fire TV device later this year.

On the Google side, both its own Chromecast devices, as well as partners TVs and hardware that support Chromecast built-in, or that run Android TV, will gain support broadly for Prime Video. Plus, any Chromecast Ultra owners will also get access to Prime Video’s 4,000 title library normally reserved for Prime members only at no additional cost as part of the new tie-up between the two companies.

Prime has been available on some Android TV devices to date, but it’s expanding to a much broader selection of those smart TVs and streaming boxes from today.

This has been a long time coming – several years in fact, with the most recent spat between the two coming as a result of Amazon’s implementation of YouTube on the Echo Show. Then, in May, the companies announced they’d reached an agreement to put the feud behind them in the interest of consumers, which is what resulted in this cross-platform launch today.

Let the streams flow!

India’s Android antitrust case against Google may have some holes

India ordered an investigation into Google’s alleged abuse of Android’s dominance in the country to hurt local rivals in April. A document made public by the local antitrust watchdog has now further revealed the nature of the allegations and identified the people who filed the complaint.

Umar Javeed, Sukarma Thapar, two associates at Competition Commission of India — and Aaqib Javeed, brother of Umar who interned at the watchdog last year, filed the complaint, the document revealed. The revelation puts an end to months-long interest from industry executives, many of whom wondered if a major corporation was behind it.

The allegations

The case, filed against Google’s global unit and Indian arm on April 16 this year, makes several allegations including the possibility that Google used Android’s dominant position in India to hurt local companies. The accusation is that Google requires handset and tablet vendors to pre-install its own applications or services if they wish to get the full-blown version of Android . Google’s Android mobile operating system powered more than 98% of smartphones that shipped in the country last year, research firm Counterpoint said.

This accusation is partly true, if at all. To be sure, Google does offer a “bare Android” version, which a smartphone vendor could use and then they wouldn’t need to pre-install Google Mobile Services (GMS). Though by doing so, they will also lose access to Google Play Store, which is the largest app store in the Android ecosystem. Additionally, phone vendors do partner with other companies to pre-install their applications. In India itself, most Android phones sold by Amazon India and Flipkart include a suite of their apps preloaded on the them.

“OEMs can offer Android devices without preinstalling any Google apps. If OEMs choose to preinstall Google mobile apps, the MADA (Mobile Application Distribution Agreement) allows OEMs to preinstall a suite of Google mobile apps and services referred to as Google Mobile Services (GMS),” said Google in response.

The second allegation is that Google is bundling its apps and services in a way that they are able to talk to each other. “This conduct illegally prevented the development and market access of rival applications and services in violation of Section 4 read with Section 32 of the Act,” the trio wrote.

This also does not seem accurate. Very much every Android app is capable of talking to one another through APIs. Additionally, defunct software firm Cyanogen partnered with Microsoft to “deeply integrate” Cortana into its Android phones — replacing Google Assistant as the default virtual voice assistant. So it is unclear what advantage Google has here.

Google’s response: “This preinstallation obligation is limited in scope. It was pointed out that preinstalled Google app icons take up very little screen space. OEMs can and do use the remaining space to preinstall and promote both their own, and third-party apps. It was also submitted that the MADA preinstallation conditions are not exclusive. Nor are they exclusionary. The MADA leaves OEMs free to preinstall rival apps and offer them the same or even superior placement.”

The third accusation is that Google prevents smartphone and tablet manufacturers in India from developing and marketing modified and potentially competing versions of Android on other devices.

This is also arguably incorrect. Micromax, which once held tentpole position among smartphone vendors in India, partnered with Cyanogen in their heyday to launch and market Android smartphones running customized operating system. Chinese smartphone vendor OnePlus followed the same path briefly.

Google’s response: “Android users have considerable freedom to customise their phones and to install apps that compete with Google’s. Consumers can quickly and easily move or disable preinstalled apps, including Google’s apps. Disabling an app makes it disappear from the device screen, prevents it from running, and frees up device memory – while still allowing the user to restore the app at a later time or to factory reset the device to its original state.”

Additionally, Google says it requires OEMs to “adhere to, a minimum baseline compatibility standard” for Android called Compatibility Definition Document (COD) to ensure that apps written for Android run on their phones. Otherwise, this risks creating a “threat to the viability and quality of the platform.”

“If companies make changes to the Android source code that create incompatibilities, apps written for Android will not run on these incompatible variants. As a result, fewer developers will write apps for Android, threatening to make Android less attractive to users and, in turn, even fewer developers will support Android,” the company said.

The antitrust is ongoing, but based on an initial probe on the case, CCI has found that Google has “reduced the ability and incentive of device manufacturers to develop and sell devices” running Android forks, the watchdog said. Google’s condition to include “the entire GMS suite” to devices from OEMs that have opted for full-blown version of Android, amounts to “imposition of unfair condition on the device manufacturers,” the watchdog added.

The document also reveals that Google has provided CCI with some additional responses that have been kept confidential. A Google spokesperson declined to comment.

Google’s texting app could soon be more like Snapchat

Google’s iMessage competitor may soon be getting an upgrade.

The company is testing Snapchat-like augmented reality effects in its Android Messages texting app, according to a new report. 

The folks at XDA Developers uncovered five unreleased AR effects in the messages app, and they’re actually pretty cool. You can see them all in the video below, but they include a fireworks effects, an angel (complete with a halo, of course), confetti, balloons, and a clever airplane animation.

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At this point, it’s not clear if this is anything more than a test or when these might be more widely available. Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the feature. 

Augmented reality effects are becoming a somewhat expected feature in messaging apps, so it’s not surprising that Google would e experimenting with this. One thing that is notable: these effects seem to be pretty polished for test features. As the video points out, the 3D animations are able to track head movements accurately (best viewed with the angel and halo effect). And even the more simple animations, like the balloons and confetti, are impressively rendered.

Overall, it would be a nice addition to Android Messages, which Google has been trying to position as something of an iMessage competitor for Android users (that ambition has so far been slow-going, due to a variety of complications). But new features like these AR effects could make Android Messages a more appealing alternative than other texting apps. 

So while Android may never have a true iMessage competitor, the existing options are, at least, getting a whole lot better.

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Bill Gates reveals his greatest mistake

During a “fireside chat” with the venture capital firm Village Global, Bill Gates got extremely candid about what he considers his “greatest mistake ever” while running Microsoft.

Apparently, Gates regrets letting Google become the dominant non-Apple mobile operating system. He explained that, at the time, the market had room for just one Apple alternative, and Microsoft should have been poised to produce that system. However, Gates said he engaged in “mismanagement,” that led to Microsoft not competing hard enough, and letting Google “win.” 

“In the software world, particularly for platforms, these are winner-take-all markets,” Gates said. “So the greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is. That is, Android is the standard non-Apple phone platform. That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win.”

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Currently, Microsoft has 1.5 billion Windows users, a number that lags behind Android’s 2 billion. Android is the most dominant mobile OS in the world.

“It really is winner take all,” Gates said. “If you’re there with half as many apps or 90% as many apps, you’re on your way to complete doom. There’s room for exactly one non-Apple operating system and what’s that worth? $400 billion that would be transferred from company G to company M.”

Gates attributed what he sees as this failure to distraction. He indicated that an antitrust lawsuit that stretched throughout the 1990s made him less focused on dominating mobile, which created an opening for Google. Google launched Android in 2008.

“It’s amazing for me to have made one of the greatest mistakes of all time, and there was this antitrust lawsuit, and there’s things that, you know, our other assets — Windows, Office — are still very strong,” Gates said. “We are a leading company. If we’d got that one right, we would be the leading company.” 

But don’t feel too bad for Microsoft. In April, it became the third company with a trillion dollar value, following Apple and Amazon. That’s a position that has eluded Google, which is now facing antitrust inquiries of its own.

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