Mobile malware is coming! Mobile malware is coming!
That has been the rallying cry of security vendors for a few years now, and yet there has been little evidence of the threat in the real world. Don’t let your guard down, though—it’s only a matter of time before a massive mobile malware attack occurs, and so far all evidence suggests that Android will be the platform it will happen on.
According to the Fortinet Threat Landscape Report 2014, 96.5 percent of all mobile malware infections occurred on Android. Symbian came in second with a mere 3.45 percent, while the rest—iOS, BlackBerry, PalmOS, and Windows Phone—combined don’t make up even one percent. At face value, that means that an Android device is nearly 200 times more likely to be infected by mobile malware than an iOS, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone device.
Fortinet explains that Android malware such as NewyearL.B is distributed as a Trojan—bundled within seemingly harmless apps. Unsuspecting users download the Trojan apps, and end up infecting their mobile device and compromising their own personal information. Once malware is in place on the device, it may serve up obnoxious spam ads, or add or remove system icons, or delete data, or a variety of other malicious—or at least mischievous—activities.
Android malware makes up all ten of the Top 10 mobile malware families identified by Fortinet in the report. The information is based on actual reported incidents, not just the sheer number of detected variants.
There are a few factors that contribute to making Android the primary target for mobile malware. First, the fact that there are so many cheap Android devices being manufactured and distributed around the world means that many users who otherwise couldn’t afford to connect to the Internet now have access in the palm of their hands. They’re new to online security, and often ignorant or naïve of the potential threats.
The second factor is that Android is the leading platform, so it represents the largest pool of potential victims. Just as Microsoft Windows is the focus of most PC malware attacks as a function of its virtual monopoly of the desktop OS market, the success and popularity of Android paint a bull’s eye target on the platform that malware developers can’t resist.
Finally, the open nature of Android increases the opportunity for malware developers to plant malicious apps, and increases the overall risk. Other platforms like iOS and Windows Phone have much tighter controls, and a process in place for vetting apps before they’re made available in the app store. Google has more lax controls for the Google Play store itself, and users are free to download apps from any number of questionably shady third-party app stores.
The Fortinet Threat Landscape Report 2014 is broader than just mobile malware. You should take a look at the report to learn more about the prevailing botnet threats, which countries distribute the most spam, and other security concerns.