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Study: Mobile Exploit Releases On Track To Double This Year

Critical vulnerabilities could triple by the end of 2011, IBM X-Force study says

Malicious exploits on mobile devices could double by the end of the year, according to a new report from IBM's X-Force security research unit.

X-Force is projecting that the year 2011 will see twice the number of mobile exploit releases that occurred in 2010. At the same time, the report notes that many mobile phone vendors do not rapidly push out security updates for their devices.

Malicious software targeting mobile phones is often distributed through third-party app markets, the report says. "Mobile phones are an increasingly attractive platform for malware developers, as the sheer size of the user base is growing rapidly, and there is an easy way to monetize mobile phone infections," X-Force states.

Malware distributors can set up premium texting (SMS messaging) services that charge users that text to a specific number, the report states. Malware then sends text messages to those premium numbers from infected phones.

Some mobile malware is designed to collect end user's personal information, X-Force says. This data could then be used in phishing attacks or for identity theft, particularly when the user has turned GPS capabilities on.

"For years, observers have been wondering when malware would become a real problem for the latest generation of mobile devices," says Tom Cross, manager of threat intelligence and strategy at IBM X-Force. "It appears that the wait is over."

X-Force reports that the percentage of critical vulnerabilities has tripled thus far in 2011. X-Force is declaring 2011 the "Year of the Security Breach" due to the large number of high-profile attacks and network compromises that have occurred this year.

Anonymous proxies have more than quadrupled in number over the past three years, X-Force says.

The first half of 2011 saw an unexpected decrease in Web application vulnerabilities, from 49 percent of all vulnerability disclosures down to 37 percent, the report states. This is the first time in five years X-Force has seen a decrease in such vulnerabilities. Spam and phishing numbers are also on the decline, it says.

The X-Force report says that attacks on weak passwords are commonplace on the Internet, as are attacks that leverage SQL Injection vulnerabilities in Web applications to compromise backend databases.

IBM researchers tested almost 700 websites -- from the Fortune 500 and other popular sites -- and found that 40 percent of these contain a class of security issues referred to as client-side JavaScript vulnerabilities, the report states.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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