Federal investigators recently shut down three Android software online stores, alleging the sites were illegally distributing copyrighted software, and were loaded with malware.
It was done through a coordinated effort by the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and other domestic and international law enforcement agencies, since the three sites were located outside of the U.S.
The sites were Applanet.net, AppBucket.net and SnappzMarket.com. The domain names are now in federal government custody. Any attempt to visit the sites will be met with a warning banner featuring the logos of the DoJ, FBI and the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Centers saying the domains have been seized.
A spokesperson for the DoJ declined to identify what nations hosted the sites. In addition to coordinating with the foreign nations hosting the sites, nine additional search warrants were executed in six different districts across the U.S. as part of the operation.
"Criminal copyright laws apply to apps for cell phones and tablets, just as they do to other software, music and writings," said U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates of the Northern District of Georgia in a statement. "These laws protect and encourage the hard work and ingenuity of software developers entering this growing and important part of our economy. We will continue to seize and shut down websites that market pirated apps, and to pursue those responsible for criminal charges if appropriate."
Android Police dug into the busts and found Applanet was the biggest and best-known of the three stores, claiming to have more than 15,000 Android apps and more than 88,000 Facebook fans and 21,000 Twitter followers.
SnappzMarket and AppBucket were considerably smaller, with 16,400 Facebook friends and 492 Facebook fans respectively. SnappzMarket claimed access to more than 50,000 Android apps.
An On-going Issue
Google has had quite a struggle to control piracy on the Android platform. When it released Android 4.1 (a.k.a. Jelly Bean) earlier this summer, the OS update featured DRM to reduce piracy. Almost immediately, Google had to disable it because it was screwing up the whole phone.
In addition to stolen software, the three sites were also believed to be mined with malware, and there has been growing alarm over Android malware. Anti-virus maker Trend Micro warned back in July of an epidemic of Android malware.
Jack Gold, president of J.Gold Associates, points out this is what you get for jailbreaking and sideloading software on Android. "These are guys who cater to people other than the Google market. What surprises me is people were silly enough to think this is a safe way to go about things," he said.
These sites are not something an average Android phone user risks running into. So long as they stick to Google Play or Amazon Marketplace, they are fine, he notes. "You had to make some effort to find these guys, and they were promoting themselves as an alternative to Google. But when you buy stuff on a street corner, you assume all the risk," said Gold.
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