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Google Targets App Piracy With Newly Patented Method to Detect Hijacked Software Assets

April 5, 2014 - Written By Tony Simons

Google is constantly working to improve its security, not only for its own interests, but also to protect the interests of its users and those who develop for its various platforms. A recently patented method established by the search engine giant, which aims to keep pirated applications off of its Google Play Store, is the latest attempt to deter shady developers from stealing the work of others and passing it off as their own. The patent (EP2693356 A2) was filed back in July of 2013, and was published on February 5th, 2014.

The method Google employs involves the use of a reference database of all known ‘authorized’ apps that have already been uploaded to Google Play by legitimate software developers. When new apps are submitted, they will be scanned against the database to find instances where code or other assets have been hijacked from authorized apps. After being analyzed, a new app will receive a “similarity rating”, based upon the executable code, data files, images and audio files it contains. To safeguard against false positive results, Google will employ a filtering system.

If you’ve ever spent time in the Google Play Store, you know that cheap imitation apps are a dime a dozen. For example, doing a search for the popular game which is no more, “Flappy Bird“, returns a number of games that play off of the original’s name, and likely contain code stolen from the same place. In the screenshot above, you can see all 8 of the featured search results are “Flappy-ish”. We’ve got 5 different variations of “Floppy Bird”, including a “3D” version, a “Pro” version, and one called, “Floppy Bird – THE Bird Game.” There’s also “Clumsy Bird,” a “Flap Bird Forever,” and my personal favorite of the bunch, “Fappy Bird.” All of these apps are posted in the Google Play Store by different developers.

For most literate Android users, it’s generally easy to spot these fakes, but not everyone is always keen to them. Occasionally, we even come across an imposter that isn’t so obvious, and these are the ones that can cause the most trouble. Downloading a fake app or game which contains malicious code can wreak havoc on your device and put your security at risk. Luckily, Google acknowledges the seriousness of this risk, and also the atrocity of stealing somebody else’s work, and is taking great strides to prevent these types of things from happening.

Bravo, Google, bravo.

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