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79% of Mobile Malware Targets Android

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 17 comments
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Android is the most popular mobile operating system on the market, but uneasy lies the head that wears a crown: Malicious hackers have designed 79 percent of all mobile malware to target Android systems.

The information comes by way of a report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice. The two agencies worked together to gauge mobile threats that Americans faced in 2012 and discovered that malware overwhelmingly targets Android over other systems.

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Surprisingly, the second-most-targeted system was not iOS, but Symbian, Nokia's quirky operating system that's been losing steam at a rapid pace. Nokia has adopted the Windows Phone OS preferentially, which means that few new phones run Symbian. 19 percent of malware went after Symbian systems.

iOS and "Others" tied at 0.7 percent of targeted malware, while Windows Mobile and BlackBerry tied at 0.3 percent.

How vulnerable is your phone?

Keep in mind that these numbers do not necessarily reflect how "safe" any given system is. The amount of malware that targets a given system is not necessarily indicative of how many users actually download and run that malware. Additionally, one very harmful piece of software could prove far more dangerous than thousands of easy-to-avoid or seldom-seen programs.

Still, Android's 79 percent of malware is more than four times higher than its next-highest competitor's share. Given how many people use Android phones, this could be a particularly volatile mix of malicious software and a user base bound to encounter it at some point.

The report found that threats come in three primary flavors: SMS (text message) Trojans, rootkits and fake Google Play domains.

SMS Trojans make up almost half of the attacks on Android systems, and they can wring a lot of money out of infected users. By hijacking a user's phone number, criminals can send text messages to expensive, premium-rate numbers. The report recommends installing an Android security suite, which can block this kind of invasive behavior.

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Rootkits are another type of malware that can log a user's keystrokes, thus giving remote malefactors access to passwords, financial information and whatever else a user types into his or her phone. A program called Carrier IQ Test can ferret out rootkits.

Finally, fake Google Play domains are what they sound like: sites designed to look just like the official Google Play store but that distribute software that can steal user information, hijack devices or just fill the Android OS with incessant ads. Avoid this by searching for apps within the official Google Play store, and use a mobile anti-virus suite if you get burned.

How to stay safe

If you have an Android device and want to hurl it directly into the ocean after reading the report, don't be too hasty: The reason why the vast majority of compromised Android devices get infected is because they were not running the latest version of the Android OS.

Jelly Bean, the latest version of Android, has been out for over a year and prevents most of the flaws that threaten Android users. Even its predecessor, Ice Cream Sandwich, which came out in 2011, renders a huge chunk of Android malware inert.

Staying up-to-date on an Android phone is not as easy as it should be, though. Many carriers provide infrequent system updates during a phone's first two years on the market, and nothing at all after that. In fact, some phones have a life cycle of only 18 months (even though a standard contract is two years). This means that Android users will have to take some proactive steps to stay safe.

If you have an Android device, make no mistake: People with ill intent are out to hack it. However, keeping your device up-to-date, installing a security program and using common sense will keep the vast majority of Android malware at bay.

Follow Marshall Honorof @marshallhonorof. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

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  • 0 Hide
    alextheblue , August 27, 2013 4:15 PM
    If this was a Microsoft or Apple OS, I have no doubt the bashing in the comments would be quite astounding right about now.
  • 0 Hide
    ap3x , August 27, 2013 4:21 PM
    Where is all the comments. Crickets.......
  • 5 Hide
    BranFlake5 , August 27, 2013 4:43 PM
    Malware goes for the most popular OS right? That's why way more PCs get viruses over MACs.
  • -5 Hide
    otacon72 , August 27, 2013 4:45 PM
    Always a fanboy trying to spin it..lol Android has more security holes than swiss cheese. Android is based off of Linux which is a very secure OS. How did Google screw up so much to take an inherently secure OS and make it completely unsecure.
  • 4 Hide
    house70 , August 27, 2013 5:03 PM
    Leave it to fanbois to talk about something they don't get. I'm looking at you, otacon. If Android was so full of holes, nobody would used it, because nobody intentionally wants to buy a system that is going to be infected from day one. You'd understand that with a minimum of applied logic.
    Any OS is as secure as the user allows it. By default Android has all the necessary stops in place. Don't forget, this is about malware targeting devices, not malware installed on devices. The simple fact that after so many years we have yet to encounter any significant "epidemic" out there on Android phones is a testament that many can try, but so far none has succeeded.
    OTOH, if one intentionally start removing the default stops, it's all on him/her.
  • 0 Hide
    hitman40 , August 27, 2013 5:32 PM
    @BraneFlake5
    "Malware goes for the most popular OS right? That's why way more PCs get viruses over MACs."

    And that's somehow a good thing? This goes for the comment you just provided in general, not related to this article.
  • -8 Hide
    okibrian , August 27, 2013 6:25 PM
    @BranFlake5

    And so you would expect iOS to be the second most targeted, but yet it's not. Wonder why that is? Maybe it's a little more secure? Nah, it couldn't be that...could it?
  • -1 Hide
    fatboytyler , August 27, 2013 6:26 PM
    Wonder how many of those "criminals" are the NSA?
  • -1 Hide
    fatboytyler , August 27, 2013 6:31 PM
    Wonder how many of those "criminals" are the NSA?
  • -5 Hide
    ap3x , August 27, 2013 6:53 PM
    Actually house70, when people buy a consumer device of anytime. They are not actually thinking about security. Android has always been swiss cheese in terms of security. And the delivery mechanism has mostly been though it's apps. This is not a case of it being popular, that is part of it. It is because it has more potential threat vectors in part due to it 's coveted openness and lack of checks and balances. Also, it is difficult to fix the problems because the upgrade process is not uniform across all devices. Google probably does everything they can to shore up issues and the new releases but most people do not or can't upgrade their phones.

    It does not take an epidemic to consider a phone insecure. You have to keep in mind, malware is created to take advantage of a specific weakness or a set of weaknesses on the platform it is designed to infect. It does not get created unless the weakness exist. This is not people writing app's that don't work. The malware works, just depends on the version of platform code that it was installed on. If the phone has a new version of Android then that particular malware may not work as intended. Most of this stuff is not strategic and targeted, they write code that works on a certain platform because the vulnerability is available and then just release it. People with all types of Android versions will download it and some will match and some will not.

    Personally, I think Android is a great platform and has come along way. But it is way to disjointed and needs a set of checks and balances. Right now it is the wild west. But it has gotten allot better.
  • 1 Hide
    ap3x , August 27, 2013 7:02 PM
    otacon72, actually a default install of Linux is no more secure than Windows. The difference is that you can harden Linux to a point where it is extremely secure. Unlike Windows. Same thing applies to OSX although they do some default stuff really well like the default use of sudo to get to root privileges. On Windows, you are admin by default.

    Unix based platforms are inherently more stable would be an accurate statement but security requires a little love.
  • 1 Hide
    razor512 , August 27, 2013 11:06 PM
    Any OS that allows you to run additional code is vulnerable to viruses and other forms of malware. People who make malware will always target the most popular operating systems as that offers them the best chance to infect the largest number of devices.

    The key to not getting infected is to not install unknown and unverified software.
  • 1 Hide
    somebodyspecial , August 28, 2013 5:32 AM
    ios has about 17% of the market and android ~75-80%. So this makes sense. The amount of malware aimed at your platform is directly related to the amount of OS share you own...LOL. No surprise. Upgrade your OS and get at least a freeware security suite for it. Problem solved.
  • 0 Hide
    rantoc , August 28, 2013 10:07 AM
    Hardly surprising, why aim for the small numbers when you can aim for the big ones with the same work? Computer wise Windows is by far the most targeted since it have a by far the biggest market share, why should mobile space be any different?
  • 0 Hide
    rantoc , August 28, 2013 10:13 AM
    Gotta love the comments about osx and security, osx _always_ get hacked first in all the black hat like events... coincident - hardly. The only thing that have saved the os ands the lack of security fixes is the lack of market penetration or it would been listed as possibly the weakest (based on default config).
  • 0 Hide
    ap3x , August 29, 2013 6:31 AM
    Where is all the comments. Crickets.......
  • 0 Hide
    hoofhearted , November 15, 2013 6:59 AM
    Need Android DeCrapifier
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