Android malware growing at 'staggering' pace, report states

A sure measure of Android’s growing popularity as a mobile operating system can be found in the amount of attention hackers and cyber criminals pay it. And in recent months, that’s been a lot of attention, according to security company F-Secure’s latest "Mobile Threat Report."

In the past year, the number of new families and variants of malware for Android have nearly quadrupled, from 10 to 37, while the number of malicious Android application package files skyrocketed from 139 to 3,063, a pace the report calls "staggering."

Among other key finding in the report, Trojan horses are by far the most common mobile threat, and, in the first quarter of 2012, the number of mobile threats motivated by profit dwarfed those with other purposes.

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For Android users, which includes a growing number of people in government, the problem isn’t just quantity but quality. F-Secure said that Android malware-writers have gotten better at evading detection by antivirus signature programs while changing application names for their malware and distributing Trojans via popular apps.

Trojans, in fact, made up 84 percent of the mobile malware F-Secure detected in the first quarter. Far behind in second place were hack tools, with 6 percent; followed by spyware at 4 percent; and malicious applications, adware and Trojan downloaders each at 2 percent.

The prime motivation for the malware writers is, not surprisingly, money, according to the report. “The majority of malware discovered in Android markets are SMS-sending malware that reap profit from sending messages to premium numbers,” the report states. Most of it comes from third-party app stores, although a few malicious apps have gotten onto Google Play (formerly know as the Android Marketplace).

In fact, perhaps the largest Android-based infection was delivered in January through what was then still know as the Android Marketplace. Malicious code contained in 13 applications on the marketplace quickly spread to more than 5 million phones, though it apparently didn’t cause much damage.

The rise of malware for Android and other mobile operating systems is a concern for agencies that are turning to mobile devices to improve efficiency and keep up with their workforces. But agencies also are making plans to keep the devices secure.

In 2011, a research team from Google, George Mason University and the National Security Agency developed a secure kernel for Android 3.0 that could be used in military operations and emergency response. And companies such as Good Technology and ActivIdentity have released two-factor authentication and credentialing apps for Android and Apple iOS.


About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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