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Android App Piracy May Result In Jail Time

November 7, 2014 - Written By David Steele

The copying and distribution of media is almost universally considered a criminal offence and usually called “piracy.” Software piracy is rife in some parts of the world and pirated applications have a reputation of bringing with them other, less desirable features in the form of malware. This isn’t the reason why I don’t like software piracy, it’s more because if the application is worth copying, it’s worth paying for, especially when all but the most expensive of applications cost less than a cup of coffee shop java juice. In most parts of the world it’s easy to connect up your (or a willing parents!) credit, debit card, or PayPal, or integrate this with your ‘phone bill. However, we’re getting off topic!

Android’s open structure makes it relatively easy to download and use copied applications and games: we’re able to sideload applications and files onto our device with the same level of technical expertise as switching our device from loud to silent mode. We don’t need a Google account installed on the device to allow this, either. And we can bypass Android’s security settings, which were enabled from version 4.2 Jelly Bean and later. And until now, there appears to have been very little interest from the law enforcement agencies, presumably because tracking down pirated applications is difficult. But as it turns out, not entirely impossible: in 2012, the FBI, ably assisted by Dutch and French authorities, seized three unauthorised Google Play Store alternatives of the yo-ho-ho-me-hearties variety. Following these seizures, there were a number of arrests and now Scott Walton from Cleveland, Ohio has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement.

This in itself is not dramatic. Scott is waiting for sentencing, but let’s take a look at the scale of the crime. Here, Scott was a part of the SnappzMarket Group, which conspired to reproduce and distribute over one million copied Android applications, amounting to $1.7 million in value. That’s a lot of coffee; given this scale, it’s considered likely that time in jail is on the cards. Scott was the lead member of SnappzMarket Group and as such is likely to carry the can.