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Mobile app malware menace grows

Android users at front line of attack

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The number of apps on mobile marketplaces contaminated with malware grew from 80 to 400 during the first half of 2011, according to a study by Lookout Mobile Security.

Android users are particularly at risk of downloading contaminated apps from markets and download sites. Two of the most commonplace threats, DroidDream and GGTracker, were regularly hidden into repackaged gaming apps or utilities and uploaded to Android app marketplaces.

Because of this surge in malicious apps, users are 2.5 times more likely to encounter malware today than at the start of the year, according to Lookout.

Based on data culled from its mobile threat network, Lookout reckons between a half million and a million users were exposed mobile malware in the first six months of 2011.

Threats include malware strains that send text messages from compromised phones. These types of attacks mainly affected Android users in China, Russia and Eastern Europe but arrived in the US last month with a threat called GGTracker.

Web-based threats mean that security risks exist for mobile users outside the Symbian and Android families, the two mobile platforms most commonly targeted by virus writers. Lookout reckons VXers are increasingly looking to redirect surfers to malicious sites contaminated with malware that triggers a download as an alternative to tricking them into opening malicious (Trojanised) applications directly. Update attacks, where an attacker first publishes a legitimate application with no malware – it is only updated with malware components once it has a large user base – have also begun to appear.

"As mobile devices grow in popularity, so do the incentives for attackers," says Kevin Mahaffey, CTO and co-founder of Lookout Mobile Security. "We've seen the prevalence and the level of sophistication of mobile malware attacks evolve significantly in the first six months of 2011. We expect this trend to continue as more and more people adopt mobile devices."

A closer look at the malware security landscape, together with safety tips for users, can be found in Lookout's report here. ®

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