Windows PCs Make Up 80% Of Mobile Network Infections

Microsoft Windows PCs -- not smartphones and tablets -- harbor most of the malware on mobile networks, according to a new Alcatel-Lucent report.

Mobile devices are the least of your worries in a mobile network: Windows PCs are responsible for 80% of all malware infections on today's mobile infrastructure, new data shows.

Alcatel-Lucent's Motive Security Labs this week published its findings from the first half of 2015, showing that the overall infection rate for mobile devices had declined from 0.68% to 0.50% from January to April of this year. Then it spiked to 0.75% in late June, thanks in part to the main source of malware on a mobile network -- Windows PCs tethered to mobile WiFi devices, hotspots, and smartphones getting hit mainly with malicious adware.

The report is yet another reality check on mobile security, indicating that the bad guys still prefer infecting pervasive and often vulnerable Windows machines over smartphones, despite worries over mobile devices being targeted and a rise in mobile malware. Motive Security Labs found that 80% of the infected devices on mobile networks in June were Windows PCs, followed by Androids.

The number of new strains of Android malware is expected to hit 2 million, according to anti-malware firm G DATA. 

While many enterprise security teams worry about BYOD as an attack vector, Verizon's 2015 Data Breach Investigations Report earlier this year showed that attackers really aren't using mobile malware for cybercrime or cyber espionage in real attacks. There was some mobile malware, but its role in security incidents was insignificant, according to the firm, which also found that mobile devices on Verizon Wireless's network were infected at a rate of 0.68%, coincidentally the same rate as Alcatel-Lucent found in the first half of this year.

Security firm Damballa Research used a more dramatic analogy to illustrate the mobile threat in its recent study: US users are 1.3 times more likely to get struck by lightning than to be infected with malware, they found.

[BYOD may be a big fat security and management headache for the business world and mobile malware is on the rise, but the reality is that so far, hackers aren't employing mobile malware for cybercrime or cyber spying purposes. Read Verizon DBIR: Mobile Devices Not A Factor In Real-World Attacks.]

According to Alcatel-Lucent, malware on mobile networks from 2013 to 2014 was half Android malware and half PC malware. Why the drop in Android malware? "The Android reduction is probably due to efforts by Google to eliminate malware from Google Play and to the introduction of the Verify Apps feature on Android," the report said. "The Verify Apps feature was introduced in Android 4.2 (JellyBean) and is now available on close to 80% of deployed devices. It is activated by default, but the user does have to consent to have the service run the first time they side-load an app."

Most Android malware on the mobile network comes via Trojan-rigged apps, many downloaded from third-party app stores and websites rather than Google Play, the report says.

Meanwhile, spyware for mobile devices is on the rise: ten of the top 25 malware types for mobile are spyware variants. These programs do everything from watch the location of a phone to monitoring calls, texts, emails, and Web browsing.

Among the more malicious adware families is BetterSurf, which comes bundled with free Windows applications and games. It installs as a plug-in to browsers and  injects pop-up ads into Web pages the user browsers. "While it looks like run-of-the-mill adware, the ads themselves are very dangerous. Many are phishing attempts to install additional malware and engage in fraudulent activity," Alcatel-Lucent said in its report.

About the Author(s)

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Editor-in-Chief of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, Virginia Business magazine, and other major media properties. Jackson Higgins was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Cybersecurity Journalists in the US, and named as one of Folio's 2019 Top Women in Media. She began her career as a sports writer in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and earned her BA at William & Mary. Follow her on Twitter @kjhiggins.

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