01:14 PM

Android Malware Continues To Surge

Mobile threats increased six-fold between 2010 and 2011, says Kapersky Lab, as security experts at RSA debate whether Android or iPhone is more secure against malware attacks.

10 Companies Driving Mobile Security
10 Companies Driving Mobile Security
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Mobile malware developers have been busy, as the quantity of malicious threats that target mobile devices increased more than six-fold between 2010 and 2011.

That's one finding from new research released this week by anti-virus software maker Kaspersky Lab, which reported that the number of distinct mobile malware families more than doubled from 2010 to 2011. Whereas 153 new mobile malware families appeared in 2010, and were collectively modified more than 1,000 times, "over the course of 2011, we recorded 5,255 new modifications of mobile threats and 178 new families," said Kaspersky Lab senior malware analyst Denis Maslennikov, in a blog post.

In other words, the amount of mobile malware continues to increase dramatically. "In December 2011 alone we uncovered more new malicious programs targeting mobile devices than over the entire 2004 to 2010 period," he said.

In 2011, 65% of new malicious mobile applications targeted the Android platform, compared with Java 2 Platform, Micro Edition, a.k.a. J2ME (27%), as well as Symbian (7%), and Windows Mobile (1%). Overall, one-third of malicious apps targeting Android were designed to steal personal data--such as contacts, call logs, text messages, and photos--from the device. Almost an equal number of malware apps were designed to take control of a user's device.

[ How big of a problem is smartphone security, really? Read Android Security Becomes FUD Fest. ]

Interestingly, from 2008 through 2010, the majority of Trojan applications designed to launch SMS attacks against mobile devices targeted J2ME devices. But in 2011, most SMS Trojans targeted Android.

Why is Android being singled out now by attackers? For starters, Android--unlike Apple iOS--is an open operating system, meaning there are few barriers to understanding exactly how it works.

Furthermore, various research firms estimate that Android now controls anywhere between 46% and 51% of the mobile operating system market, according to Harry Sverdlove, CTO of Bit9. "So it's not surprising that most malware is targeting that," he said in an interview at the RSA conference in San Francisco this week.

Although Android is undeniably popular, one security issue is that many smartphone manufacturers and cell phone carriers infrequently update customers' Android devices. As a result, many Android smartphones sport known vulnerabilities that could be exploited by attackers.

"For some reason in the Android world, because the phone manufacturers and carriers want in on the pot, we've been trained to think that the manufacturers and carriers are responsible for updating our software," said Sverdlove. "Whereas in the PC world, no one expects the PC seller to update the operating system."

The Android updating situation--as well as for J2ME, Symbian, and Windows Mobile--contrasts with Apple iOS. Notably, Apple alone pushes iOS updates, and they can be immediately applied to currently supported devices, provided users synchronize their device with iTunes and agree to install the update. (Newer iOS devices also can receive updates over the air.)

Of course, iOS isn't immune to application vulnerabilities. "There's a question of what platforms are more or less secure," said Kevin Mahaffey, CTO of Lookout Mobile Security, speaking at RSA. "Android and iPhones have a similar level of security baked into them, it just turns out that iPhone has been less targeted." For example, he said, researchers at CounterStrike demonstrated a WebKit vulnerability at RSA this week that uses a weaponized vulnerability in WebKit to track GPS data and record phone conversations. WebKit, however, is used in both Android and iOS operating systems, as well as browsers for traditional operating systems.

Not everyone, however, agrees with Mahaffey's assessment that mobile operating systems offer similar security levels. "I'd argue that iOS is at least a little more secure," said Roel Schouwenberg, a senior anti-virus researcher at Kaspersky Lab, at the RSA conference.

But he said that all mobile operating systems needed to see security improvements, such as more rigorous checks and transparent processes surrounding the detection of malware, as well as overall mobile application security. "Right now, you need to just trust Apple or Google that everything is fine," he said.

InformationWeek is conducting a survey on information security and risk management. Upon completion of our survey, you will be eligible to enter a drawing to receive an 64-GB Apple iPad 2. Take our Alternative Strategic Security Survey now. Survey ends March 9.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
User Rank: Ninja
3/4/2012 | 4:25:46 PM
re: Android Malware Continues To Surge
@ readers: are security concerns affecting your decision to buy (or for your business to support) a particular smartphone?
Brian Prince, InformationWeek/Dark Reading Comment Moderator
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
Dark Reading Tech Digest, Dec. 19, 2014
Software-defined networking can be a net plus for security. The key: Work with the network team to implement gradually, test as you go, and take the opportunity to overhaul your security strategy.
Flash Poll
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
Published: 2014-12-25
The CmdAuthenticate::_authenticateX509 function in db/commands/authentication_commands.cpp in mongod in MongoDB 2.6.x before 2.6.2 allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (daemon crash) by attempting authentication with an invalid X.509 client certificate.

Published: 2014-12-25
The Crumb plugin before 3.0.0 for Node.js does not properly restrict token access in situations where a hapi route handler has CORS enabled, which allows remote attackers to obtain sensitive information, and potentially obtain the ability to spoof requests to non-CORS routes, via a crafted web site ...

Published: 2014-12-24
The expand function in fio.c in Heirloom mailx 12.5 and earlier and BSD mailx 8.1.2 and earlier allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary commands via shell metacharacters in an email address.

Published: 2014-12-24
The ssl23_get_client_hello function in s23_srvr.c in OpenSSL 1.0.1j does not properly handle attempts to use unsupported protocols, which allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (NULL pointer dereference and daemon crash) via an unexpected handshake, as demonstrated by an SSLv3 handshak...

Published: 2014-12-24
drivers/misc/qseecom.c in the QSEECOM driver for the Linux kernel 3.x, as used in Qualcomm Innovation Center (QuIC) Android contributions for MSM devices and other products, does not validate certain offset, length, and base values within an ioctl call, which allows attackers to gain privileges or c...

Best of the Web
Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
Join us Wednesday, Dec. 17 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time to hear what employers are really looking for in a chief information security officer -- it may not be what you think.