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Mobe anti-virus biz Lookout eyes Euro telcos

Android, iOS good. BlackBerry and Windows out of luck

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Lookout Mobile Security is going international with localised versions of its mobile security software and a partnership to pre-embed its technology in Android phones supplied by Telstra Australia, its first mobile telco partner outside the US.

The mobile security specialist already claims more than 12 million users across 170 countries but wants to expand its presence through forging partnerships with mobile telcos in Western Europe and other key markets, such as Japan. It already partners with Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile in the US.

Each telco pre-embeds free versions of Lookout's security software on Android smartphones they supply in return for a share of the income if and when these users convert to using a premium (paid-for) version of the software. The same technology also works on Android tablets.

Lookout branched out in October by offering a free of charge version of its software for iPhones and iPads. A premium version of the software may follow, but for now the firm is relying on sales of premium versions of its Android software to a largely consumer customer base. Company execs surprisingly declined to answer our question about conversion rates but did say that most of Lookout's users get the basic versions of its software via Android or Apple app stores rather than bundled with their smartphones.

Freebie versions of Lookout's technology offer basic data backup to the cloud (contacts etc) and find-my-phone capabilities, on both Android and iPhone, platforms as well as anti-malware on smartphones from Android. Anti-virus scans on iPhones are against the Jobsian faith, at least for the immediate future, and (in fairness) aside from a couple of worms from a few years back iOS malware doesn't really exist.

Lookout Premium for Android comes with extra features including a safe browsing feature that warns about phishing or malware-tainted websites; Privacy Advisor, a tool that details whether personal information is accessed by each mobile app; and remote lock-and-wipe capabilities for £1.99 a month, or £19.99 a year.

The firm competes with the likes of DroidSecurity, an Israeli developer acquired by AVG last year, which marketed an ad-supported antivirus app for Android smartphones and tablets, now offered under the Antivirus Free for Android Devices and Antivirus Pro for Android Devices brand names. Traditional desktop anti-virus firms such as Symantec, Kaspersky Lab and others also market security suites for Android.

Just under half of the UK population now owns a smartphone, according to industry estimates. As mobile devices proliferate they are becoming a more attractive target for cybercrooks. Lookout estimates mobile malware instances have more than doubled to nearly 1,000 over the last four months alone. Much of this malware originates in either Russia or China, but targets people worldwide. For example, Lookout identified an Android Trojan, dubbed GGTracker, which is automatically downloaded to a user’s phone after visiting a malicious webpage that imitates the Android Market. The malware targets US victims, signing them up to premium rate SMS subscription services without their consent.

Estimates on PC malware numbers vary between vendors but invariably exceed three million or more.

John Hering, chief exec of Lookout Mobile Security, told El Reg that the crooks developing mobile malware are not always the same people who churn out malware for PCs, even though they are adopting at least some of the same tactics. Cybercrooks have developed their own software development kits for Android that allow them to produce smartphone malware strains more quickly, for example.

Lookout has no plans to expand onto BlackBerry or Windows Mobile. "The future for consumers is with Android and Apple," Hering said. "We're focused on consumers but we plan to move into the business market. We have the cloud based-technology but a management console still needs to be built."

The international launch of Lookout on Wednesday comes in the middle of the UK's annual Get Safe Online campaign week, which this year is focusing on the dangers of premium rate text scams that abuse malware-infected mobile phones.

Rik Ferguson, director for GetSafeOnline.org and of security research at Trend Micro, demonstrates how Trojan apps work (using a malware simulator) in an informative and hype-free video clip published by the BBC here. ®

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