Feature Article

June 14, 2013

Android Malware on the Rise, Missing Phones Still Biggest Security Threat

When it comes to malware, the threat on Android mobile devices is rising, but, it could be much worse, according to chief research officer at F-Secure Mikko Hypponen.

The risk of being infected by malware while browsing the mobile Web is slim. The greatest risk of infection comes from applications, but with Apple's strict app policy on what the company places inside its App Store, and the lack of adoption for Windows phones, the primary focus turns to open-source Android.

The Android platform provides almost total freedom, allowing security companies to work more easily with Android users. Ironically, that same freedom is why malware exists in the Google Play store.

"It's pretty much what Google was aiming for," explained Hypponen, who doesn't believe that the search giant is to blame for the malware on the platform. "They wanted it to be more open, more accessible, more programmable."

Most recently, a fake app in the Google Play store called “Bad Piggies” received over 10,000 downloads since May 25, 2013.  The trojanized app became popular because it is a clone of the original game from developer Rovio. The fake installer app was not classified as malicious, which is how it got past Google's bouncer. The app had the ability to change settings, receive full access to the user's location and store personal information.

Outside of the Google Play store, apps can also be sideloaded onto Android by downloading an APK file. Many pirate sites, which provide free versions of paid applications, often insert their own malicious code into the file without the user's knowledge. This code can serve up advertisements, track the user and gain valuable information such as passwords. The biggest threat to Android may not be malware, but rather missing devices, according to Hypponen. He reported that F-Secure had run a study and found that "one in 10 said they had their phone lost or stolen."

That is why many Android security apps, like F-Secure, let users remotely lock and locate their lost or stolen phone. At a time when just about every anti-malware suite on Android scores well above 90 percent detection, it is features like this that make a noticeable difference.

About 32.8 million Android smartphones were infected with malware in 2012, an increase of 20 million units from 2011, according to security firm NQ Mobile.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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