Mobile devices show low rate of malware infections

Despite the growing number of malicious apps for Android devices, researchers at Georgia Tech found a surprisingly low rate of infections on phones in the United States.

There was a surprise for researchers at Georgia Tech analyzing emerging threats. It was “the relatively low infection rate of mobile devices in the United States,” said Paul Royal, associate director of the school’s Information Security Center and an author of the Emerging Cyber Threats Report for 2013.

Although the number of malicious and suspicious apps for the Android OS has exploded -- from 30,000 in June to 175,000 in September -- an analysis by the Info Security Center of DNS traffic for one large cellular provider found only 0.002 percent of U.S. phones showed signs of infection. “People don’t appear to be downloading them,” Royal said.

One reason is that many of the malicious apps are in foreign languages and targeted at phones in other countries, where they are more likely to be used for financial transactions, he said.

That does not necessarily mean that phones or apps are safe, however. There are many apps that could be taking liberties with users’ phones that are not counted as malicious because they ask for those permissions up front, when they are installed. When an app asks for access to your contact list, “people see that as a necessary evil,” and not as a privacy violation, Royal said.

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