Mobile Malware on the Increase

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Posted 4 years ago

A report from leading internet security software provider McAfee Labs has revealed a surge in malware – particularly in mobile devices running the Android operating system.

The release of the Santa Clara based company’s Q2 Threat Report revealed that “virtually all new mobile malware detected in Q2 2012 was directed at the Android platform”. And when they say “virtually all” this is exactly what they mean; take a look a look at the pie chart on page 4 on the report for confirmation. Symbian was once the mobile OS that suffered the biggest threat of malware, but with dominant smartphone market share for Android comes greater possibility for hackers to infect handsets. As a result, Symbian now represents only a fraction of mobile malware cases.

McAfee have said that the malicious software has taken the form of SMS-sending malware, Trojans, spyware and mobile botnets. Vincent Weaver, senior vice president of McAfee Labs, said in a prepared press release, “Attacks we’ve traditionally seen on PCs are now making their way to other devices,” warned Vincent Weaver, senior vice president of McAfee labs. “For example, in Q2 we saw Flashback, which targeted Macintosh devices and techniques such as ransomware and drive-by downloads targeting mobile.”

Now, you may have heard a word that is not familiar to you in that statement – ransomware. Ransomware is when a virus maker creates a program that restricts certain data on your computer (i.e. preventing you from browsing the Web) and demands money from the victim in order to remove the restriction. When this happens, the only way to solve the problem is to reset your phone back to factory settings, resulting in the loss of files. You could of course pay the fee, but you will do so with no guarantee of it completely removing the virus.

Another type of malware mentioned by Mr. Weaver was “drive-by downloads”; this is when a mobile internet user downloads malware unknowingly by visiting a particular site. Viruses are also cleverly disguised as system updates as a way to con people into downloading them onto their phones and tablets.

Botnets are also becoming an increasing problem, enrolling Android devices as zombie machines that take orders from rogue Twitter accounts. What happens here is bot commands are tweeted and infected devices will follow them. Using a service such as Twitter allows an attacker to leverage the resources of others without paying for a dedicated server or stealing one that belongs to a victim, says the McAfee report. “Internet relay chat servers have been exploited in the past for similar reasons, but using the web service gives attackers a small measure of anonymity.

What we are basically seeing is attacks that have blighted Windows PC users for so long, now making their way over to Android – the next easy target.

The McAfee Threat Report records the biggest quarterly increase in malware samples since 2009, with the discovery rate accelerating at close to 100,000 cases per day. In total 1.5 million malware samples have been detected since the first quarter.

If the threat of malware on Android continues to rise, consumers are going to start looking towards other mobile operating systems. Therefore, it may be in the best interests of manufacturers and carriers to begin providing anti-virus software as standard with new devices, or at least offer consumers the option of a security package upon purchase of the phone.

Anthony Carter

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