Malware on Android devices spiked about 37 percent from the second quarter, McAfee's Third-Quarter Threats Report said. The company also said 2011 is on pace to exceed last year's mobile malware total and become the busiest year in mobile malware's short, but interesting, history.
Malware continues to be produced daily at high levels, but we often miss its sophistication - which lies buried beneath the big numbers, McAfee said. In fact, this quarter Android was the sole target of mobile malware writers. A true portent indeed!
Android was the most popular platform for new malware in the second quarter, but in the third quarter, the study revealed Android became the exclusive platform for all new mobile malware. Nokia's Symbian OS still possesses the most amount of malware, but with 550,000 Android devices activated each day, Google's mobile operating system is clearly today's target for cybercriminals.
One of the most common types of malware involves Trojans, which leverage SMS messaging to collect personal information and steal money from the user each time a message is sent. The malware also automatically deletes any subscription confirmation messages sent to the phone so that the victim remains oblivious to the attack.
In addition, McAfee, now part of Intel, based in Santa Clara, Calif., discovered that cybercriminals have devised a new way to steal information exclusively from Android devices, by recording user phone calls. The stealthy malware clings to the devices for extended periods, remaining undetected as it repeatedly records user conversations and forwards them to the attacker. This malware can remain on the phone until the attacker decides they have all of the information they want.
Hackers have also stolen information by gaining access to Android's system databases, which effectively helps attackers break free from the application sandbox to access the phone's data and operations, and read and exploit system files, from e-mails to contacts.
McAfee rival Symantec warned users of cyber attacks spreading through compromised versions of legitimate applications, available on unregulated third-party Android marketplaces. Juniper Networks, a supplier of Internet equipment, berated Android for this glaring loophole in security.
These days, it seems all you need is a developer account, that is relatively easy to anonymize, pay $25 and you can post your applications, the company wrote in a blog post. With no upfront review process, no one checking to see that your application does what it says, just the world's largest majority of smartphone users skimming past your application's description page with whatever description of the application the developer chooses to include.
Yet despite the prevalence of malware on Android devices, McAfee warns against installing superfluous antivirus products, as many of them turn out to be phony offerings concealing malware of their own.
Virus companies are playing on your fears to try to sell you BS protection software for Android, RIM and iOS, said Chris DiBona, Google's open-source programs manager. They are charlatans and scammers. If you work for a company selling virus protection for Android, RIM or IOS you should be ashamed of yourself.
The overall growth of malware in the third quarter was slower than the second quarters from the last two years, but cumulatively, the amount of malware incidents has exceeded 70 million. Despite fewer reported threats, McAfee says that malware tactics have grown increasingly sophisticated and subversive.
The noise tells us spam levels have dropped, yet the signal we need to hear is that the bad guys have changed their tactics, the report said. They are protecting their business models and are doing so with a sophistication that creates a more dangerous threat than before.
Malware in 2011 has been widespread, from infected QR codes to the advent of Duqu to the emergence of hactivist groups like LulzSec and Anonymous. There is no comprehensive package for malware prevention, but the best thing users can do is be aware that these threats exist, and be cautious of what they download.