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October 22, 2012

Android threats up nearly 500% in three months

Trend Micro report paints worrying picture for Android users

By Steve Evans

Malware targeting the Android mobile operating system continues to grow at an alarming pace, according to new research from Trend Micro.

The company’s quarterly security roundup revealed that the number of malicious and potentially dangerous or high-risk Android apps rose from 30,000 in June this year to 175,000 between August and September, an increase of 483%.

According to Trend Micro’s research, fake versions of legitimate Android apps are by far the most prevalent form of malware. Some are designed to steal sensitive information, such as banking information, while others attempt to takeover a user’s smartphone or run up huge bills by signing up for premium rate messaging scams.

Trend’s report also warned of an increase in what it calls "aggressive mobile adware", which is adverts that pop-up constantly on an infected device, generating revenue for the developers behind the advert. These can also gather information about the user, Trend said.

"It’s no surprise that we see such a huge increase in mobile malware", said Raimund Genes, CTO at Trend Micro. "Android is the dominant smartphone platform with an amazing success story. The digital underground reads statistics and analysts reports as well, and they figured out way to make money with mobile malware. And unlike your computer, getting information from your phone also reveals your location, the phone numbers you have called – and more – all stuff which could be sold."

Google’s open approach, which is in stark contrast to Apple’s App Store, means the system is open to abuse. The fact that so few Android devices have any kind of security installed is not helping the situation, Trend Micro said.

Rik Ferguson, Trend Micro’s director of security research and communications, added that the company expects to see threats aimed at Android increase over the next few years.

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"This level of criminal interest does not bode well for the future and for the Internet of Things, where Android is still the most likely Operating System to power the multitude of connected devices appearing over the horizon," he said.

"Active and sustained criminal interest in the Android platform is a reality and looks set to continue for the foreseeable future until some fundamental and necessary changes are made to the infrastructure and some important security lessons are relearned at Operating System level," Ferguson continued.

Google has recently tried to improve security of its Play Store, by revamping the terms and conditions developers must adhere to. Specifically the updates are designed to ensure apps do not gather personal user information without that user’s permission. Google also wants to stamp out apps that can mimic other popular apps.

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