Hackers Escalate Reign of Malware Terror on Android

Android has become a mobile malware magnet, according to F-Secure.

A whopping 79 percent of all mobile malware targeted the Google OS in 2012, based on a new report from the firm. That was up from 66.7 percent in 2011 and just 11.25 percent in 2010.

The fourth quarter of 2012 was particularly bad, it said, with attacks on Android spiking to account for 96 percent of all mobile malware.

It would be easy to make the case that malware is gravitating toward Android because of its growing popularity — but what then would explain the lack of malware heading toward Apple’s iOS, which is just about as popular as Android?

A trifling 0.7 percent of mobile malware targeted Apple’s platform, F-Secure found.

There are obvious differences between Android and iOS. For starters, Apple is known for keeping tight control over its system.

“Android is a far more open system, and it is becoming the most popular platform in the world,” Cloudmark researcher Andrew Conway told LinuxInsider, “so it is naturally the one that the bad guys will attack.”

The Overseas Factor

There are other factors that are fueling the rise of Android malware, such as growth in the number of overseas users.

“Android has been a massive malware magnet for some time now, largely because it is used heavily in China and Eastern Europe, and both piracy and side-loading are rampant there,” Rob Enderle, principal of the Enderle Group, told LinuxInsider.

“It is almost like Google is fueling a massive upswing in criminal activity on their devices, albeit unintentionally, through their free model,” he said. “This is crippling security efforts like Samsung’s Knox, which can’t hope to secure data on a platform that itself resists being secure.”

There are other problems with Android devices, Lamar Bailey, director of security research and development for nCircle, told LinuxInsider.

OS updates sometimes don’t get to users quickly enough, he said, and sometimes they don’t get there at all.

“Google may send out an update, but it’s pretty much up to the hardware and carrier vendors to get these to users,” noted Bailey. “Android phones are hitting the market so fast they are out of date within a few months, and the handset vendor and the carrier both want you to upgrade often — they’re not focused on security.”

Another problem is the lack of oversight in the Android app store, he added. Anyone can write an app and submit it to Google Play, even someone with no security knowledge at all.

“This problem is compounded by users that aren’t even considering security when they shop for apps,” said Bailey. “They are only looking at functionality and reviews. For hackers, the app store is basically paradise, because they can upload a malicious app and infect thousands of devices with very little effort, or attack popular apps with weak security.”

More Questions Than Answers

Despite the eyebrow-raising numbers — 79 percent! 96 percent! — the F-Secure report raises almost as many questions as it does answers, said Daniel Ford, chief security officer at Fixmo.a

“This report didn’t talk about how they collected their data or what the sample size was,” he told LinuxInsider. “It doesn’t discuss in detail which version of Android is attracting the most malware and why.”

Malware has been on the rise since, well, forever, said Ford. “I can’t really say there is anything new about the findings in this report.”

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