Malware threat grows on mobile platforms

As the smartphone market continues to grow, it’s little wonder that the threat of malware targeting mobile operating systems has grown alongside it. According to ABI Research, the Android platform captured 47% of the smartphone market in Q4 2011, representing perhaps the single largest competitor for Apple’s iPhone.

One of the reasons Android has enjoyed so much success is that it’s comparatively easy to develop Android apps. Experts believe that Android’s open nature has contributed to innovation, as well as the proliferation of free content. However, there is a downside, as the same attribute can be exploited by creators of malicious software.

There is some disagreement on the real extent of the threat. However, there is little doubt that the threat is genuine. According to software company Trend Micro, the number of malicious apps targeting the Android OS spiked toward the end of 2011. A product manager with Trend Micro believes that the number of malicious Android apps could reach 120,000 by the end of this year.

Several types of malware exist. These include:

  • Data stealers, which collect information from the user’s phone and and send it to a remote URL
  • Premium service abusers, which subscribe users to paid premium services without his or her knowledge
  • Malicious downloaders, which download other malicious programs, and
  • Rooters, perhaps the most alarming variety of malware. Rooters completely hijack the phone and all its functions.

Another Trend Micro report offers a few fundamental security tips, such as protecting your phone with a password or other phone-locking feature and disabling the Wi-Fi autoconnect feature. Users are also advised only to download apps from trusted sources—the Android Market has begun to implement its own security measures—and to consider purchasing a security app.

The full Computerworld report, in addition to some free Android security apps, can be found here.