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Security firms: Android malware set to skyrocket

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Android malware threats could increase by a factor of 60 over the next six months, according to Romanian security pros.

The rise, if realised, could see the number of Android mobile malware samples increasing from 200 now to 12,000 by March 2012. Many examples of Android malware involve the insertion of malicious code into legitimate applications before they are uploaded to third-party Android marketplaces.

During a demonstration on Tuesday, BitDefender security researchers showed it was possible perform this task with just 10 lines of base script. In most cases, users can avoid becoming victims by reviewing the "permissions" that an item of software requests before agreeing to install an app. For example, there is no legitimate reason why a torch app would need the ability to send SMS messages.

"The trouble with permissions is that ultimately falls down to user choice and interpretation," Viorel Canja, head of anti-malware and anti-spam labs at BitDefender told El Reg. "It's a repeat of the same problem we've had on the desktop."

"If Google locks down its applications, it risks losing developer interest, something that happened to Symbian before it. Android is not yet the new Windows for malware but it is going that way at the moment," he added.

BitDefender is developing a mobile security product for Android. The product, currently in beta, includes remote wipe and a filter designed to allow users to easily review application permissions as well as malware detection features. Under current plans, the software would be released free of charge to consumers but neither this or the release date for the software are confirmed. The application has been designed to minimise battery impact.

Rival security firm G Data agreed with BitDefender's assessment that the rate of growth of mobile malware - which it reckoned grew by 273 per cent in the first half of 2011 - is only going to increase over the immediate future.

“With mobile malware, cyber criminals have discovered a new business model," said Eddy Willems, security evangelist at G Data. "At the moment, the perpetrators mainly use backdoors, spy programs and expensive SMS services to harm their victims.

"Even though this special underground market segment is still being set up, we currently see an enormous risk potential for mobile devices and their users. We are therefore expecting another spurt of growth in the mobile malware sector in the second half of the year."

The sophistication as well as the sheer number of malware strains targeting Android smartphones is increasing. For example, Trusteer warned earlier this week over the appearance of a strain of the SpyEye banking Trojan that infected Android smartphones in order to intercept text messages that many financial institutions use to prevent fraud, as explained in more detail in our earlier story here. ®

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