Will Android Be The Next Catastrophic Malware Disaster?

by Gaurav Kheterpal on May 17, 2011

In January, a malevolent monster reared its ugly head from behind the Great Fire Wall of China in the form of a particularly malicious piece of malware targeting Android devices. Next month, McAfee reported that new mobile malware increased by a whopping 46 percent in 2010 over the previous year and our esteemed fellow blogger Jeff Weiner bet that 2011 will again see an increase in mobile viruses.

Jeff mostly get his bets right and the exponential rise in Android malware was always going to be a safe bet anyway. Android malware problems have seen fourfold increase between June 2010 and January 2011, according to a report released by Juniper Networks. The report attributes this increase in malware to lack of user education about security, large number of downloads from unknown sources and the lack of mobile security software.

There’s no doubt Google’s mobile platform is booming, and so is the volume of malicious apps on Android. Android is currently the fastest growing mobile platform, unfortunately it’s also he biggest distribution point for malware across mobile platforms. Suddenly, Android openness and fragmentation seem like secondary issues. Right?

The “Mobile Malicious Threats” report by Juniper indicates that the greatest mobile malware risk comes from legitimate apps that have been injected with malicious software and re-packaged for app stores. Android’s explosive growth has added to the problem – there are over 200,000 applications on the Android Market today – up from 50,000 a year ago. Google’s lax approach to tackle the issue has meant a massive rise in malicious apps designed to steal user data. DroidDream, a malicious app turned the Android dream sore as it infected about 50,000 Android users before Google began to remove it, with limited success.

SMS Trojans accounted for 17% of all reported infections while spyware made up 61% of infections. The report also indicates smartphones are increasingly susceptible to Wi-Fi attacks, including malicious apps that target email and social networking applications. In contrast, Apple’s iOS platform is safer as there’s “relatively little known malware”. The report highlights Symbian and Microsoft Windows Mobile platforms were targets of mobile malware. Thankfully, we don’t need to worry about either of these platforms any longer.

Though several security firms including Webroot, AVG and others have recently announced anti-virus software for Android devices, these are yet to gain widespread user acceptance. BullGuard and Juniper also announced their collaboration to develop a security solution for smartphones. Last year, a study by SANS found that only 15% of smartphone users were using antivirus to protect their phones against threats. Clearly, there’s a strong need for user education on mobile security.

The Juniper report raises important questions over Android’s future as an enterprise-grade mobile platform. Enterprises need to account for the increasing security risks associated with using mobile devices, and proactively protect them from malware. Google, though, claims it is committed to providing a secure Android Market experience for consumers. Perhaps, it’s a good time for Google to stop talking and act before it’s too late.

In retrospect, Apple’s walled garden approach doesn’t necessarily seem to be a bad thing. What do you say? Please share your opinion by leaving a comment below this post.

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Written by: Gaurav Kheterpal. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.comby: RSS,TwitterFacebook, or YouTube.

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