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updated 8/22/2012 1:20:40 PM ET 2012-08-22T17:20:40

On Tuesday, French, Dutch and U.S. law enforcement agencies took down three websites accused of illegally selling Android phone apps by seizing their domain names.

The sites, applanet.net, appbucket.net and snappzmarket.com, were allegedly selling copyrighted programs without consent from the software developers or distributors and are now in the custody of the U.S. government.

On its website, the Justice Department said this is "the first time website domains involving cellphone app marketplaces have been seized."

"Cracking down on piracy of copyrighted works — including popular apps — is a top priority of the Criminal Division," Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said.

Before the raid, FBI agents downloaded thousands of illegal copies of popular apps from these "alternative online markets" for free instead of paying for them through the approved app store.

More often than not, servers that host copyrighted material are hosted outside of the United States. Thanks to international law-enforcement partners, the Justice Department said, it was able to seize evidence and carry out nine search warrants.

"These thefts cost companies millions of dollars and can even inhibit the development and implementation of new ideas and applications," FBI Special Agent in Charge Brian Lamkin said.

The disabled sites now display an ominous "seized" message from the FBI, which also warns visitors about the stiff penalties that come along with copyright infringement.

"We will continue to seize and shut down websites that market pirated apps," said U.S. Attorney Sally Yates.

"Off-road" Android app marketplaces offering free or discounted apps may be tempting to budget shoppers, but their wares are not only illegally duplicated, but are often riddled with malware. There's no quicker way to infect your smartphone or tablet than by installing a pirated copy of "Angry Birds" that's been rigged to copy all your personal or financial information.

Most Android app buyers should stick to Google Play or Amazon's Appstore for Android. To restrict your device to Google Play apps, go to your security settings and make sure "Unknown Sources" is not selected.

© 2012 SecurityNewsDaily. All rights reserved

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