Mobile malware threats grew at a rapid rate of 614 percent to 276,259 total malicious apps, over the twelve-months to March 2013, according to analysis by Juniper Networks.
Additionally, it is clear from developments in the threat landscape that malware writers are increasingly behaving like profit-motivated businesses when designing new attacks and malware distribution strategies.
Attackers are maximizing their return on investment by focusing 92 percent of all MTC detected threats at Android, which has a commanding share of the global smartphone market. Attackers are also leveraging loosely regulated third-party app marketplaces to distribute malware and more quickly get threats on the market.
This year’s report uncovered several mobile malware trends that demonstrate increased business savvy by attackers including:
- Preying on High-Growth Market Opportunities: Mobile malware developers are recognizing huge opportunity in the growing market dominance of Android. Malware for the Android operating system has increased at a staggering rate since 2010, growing from 24 percent of all mobile malware that year to 92 percent by March 2013.
- More Effective Distribution: Attackers made strides to shorten the supply chain and find more agile methods to distribute their wares into the wild around the globe. The MTC identified more than 500 third-party Android application stores worldwide, most with very low levels of accountability or oversight, that are known to be hosting mobile malware — preying on unsuspecting mobile users as well as those with jail-broken iOS mobile devices. Of the malicious third-party stores identified by the MTC, three out of five originate from either China or Russia.
- Multiple Paths to Big Profits: Almost three-fourths (73 percent) of all known malware are FakeInstallers or SMS Trojans, which exploit holes in mobile payments to make a quick and easy profit. These threats trick people into sending SMS messages to premium-rate numbers set up by attackers. Based on research by the MTC, each successful attack instance can yield approximately $10 USD in immediate profit. The MTC also found that more sophisticated attackers are developing intricate botnets and targeted attacks capable of disrupting and accessing high-value data on corporate networks.
- Exploiting Industry Fragmentation: The fragmented Android ecosystem keeps the vast majority of devices from receiving new security measures provided by Google, which could leave users exposed to even known threats. According to Google, as of June 3, 2013, only four percent of Android phone users were running the latest version of the operating system, which provides mitigation against the most popular class of malware measured by the MTC that makes up 77 percent of Android threats.
- Increasing Privacy Violations: In addition to malicious apps, Juniper Networks found several legitimate free applications that could pose a risk of leaking corporate data on devices. Juniper Networks found free mobile applications sampled by the MTC are three times more likely to track location and 2.5 times more likely to access user address books than their paid counterparts. Free applications requesting/gaining access to account information nearly doubled from 5.9 percent in October 2012 to 10.5 percent in May 2013.
“There’s no doubt mobility will continue to be a pervasive and disruptive force across every industry. We have found that it has created an easy business opportunity for malware developers who are becoming savvy in their approach to quickly turn profits in a rapidly growing market. We anticipate that similar to the evolution of PC-based threats, mobile attacks will continue to increase and become more sophisticated in the coming years.” – Troy Vennon, director of the Mobile Threat Center, Juniper Networks