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Google guru blasts Android virus doomsayers as 'charlatans'

Says iOS perfectly safe from security 'scammers', too

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Google's open-source program manager has launched an entertaining rant against firms offering mobile security software, accusing them of selling worthless software and of being "charlatans and scammers".

Chris DiBona, Google's open-source programs manager, argues that neither smartphones based on Google's Android nor Apple's iOS need anti-virus protection. Anyone telling you different is a snake-oil salesman, he said.

"Virus companies are playing on your fears to try to sell you BS protection software for Android, RIM, and, iOS," DiBona said on Google+. "They are charlatans and scammers. If you work for a company selling virus protection for Android, RIM or iOS, you should be ashamed of yourself."

He argues that smartphones are inherently more secure than PCs, while admitting mobile malware is not mythical but rather that it has rarely if ever caused much of a problem.

"No major cell phone has a 'virus' problem in the traditional sense that Windows and some Mac machines have seen," he said. "There have been some little things, but they haven't gotten very far due to the user sandboxing models and the nature of the underlying kernels."

"No Linux desktop has a real virus problem," he added.

It seems a report from Juniper Networks last week noting "exponential growth" in Android malware, blamed on the looser controls in the Android Market than those applied by Apple, provoked the Google guru's splenetic outburst. DiBona doesn't call out any of the mobile security charlatans he castigates so strongly by name but there's no shortage of candidates.

Many anti-virus firms have branched out into offering security software for Android, including commercial products from Kaspersky Lab, F-Secure and Symantec. Lookout Mobile and AVG's DroidSecurity offer basic protection software at no charge to consumers. Some security firms, Lookout and Intego, offer more basic security packages for iOS but without bundled anti-virus protection, which is not supported by iOS. Windows Mobile anti-malware is covered by the likes of F-Secure and others. Hardened Blackberry devices exist but we've never come across a firm offering BlackBerry security software as a stand-alone product as yet. Viruses targeting BlackBerry remain unknown.

Security firms said DiBona has misunderstood both the threat and the capabilities of their products. Kaspersky Lab said that cybercrooks are migrating towards Android as the platform increases in popularity. the main problem is Trojans, malicious applications that pose as something useful to a smartphone user, rather than virus. Kaspersky reckons one Trojan - DroidDream - has already infected infected 100,000 users.

Mikko Hypponen, F-Secure's chief research officer, tweeted, "What @cdibona [Chris DiBona] is missing is that these tools do much more than just antivirus: Antitheft. Remote lock. Backup. Parental control. Web filter."

Talk of exponential malware growth is justified but needs to be put into context, that the huge rise is coming from a base of almost nothing and that the raw figures remain trivial compared to the Windows virus plague. Specialist mobile security firm Lookout, for example, estimates mobile malware instances have more than doubled to nearly 1,000 over the last four months alone. Windows malware estimates routinely exceed 5 million and above. ®

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