A report published last week by Alcatel-Lucent revealed malware on mobile devices has caught up to the infection rate on traditional PCs. The report was created by the telecommunications company’s Motive Security Labs and used data compiled from fixed and mobile networks using their Motive Security Guardian software. The software is deployed in networks around the world, and monitored traffic from nearly 100 million individual devices.
The report revealed 0.68% of mobile devices were infected with some type of malware. This may not sound like much, but with 2.3 billion mobile broadband subscriptions this estimate puts the number of infected smartphones and tablets at approximately 16 million. The report notes the estimate is probably conservative due to lack of coverage in China and Russia, where mobile malware infections are higher than average.
Android Makes Up Over 99% of Mobile Malware Infections
That the Android operating system makes up most mobile malware infections should come as no surprise. Its open source environment and the ability for users to install apps from third-party sources makes it easier for cyber criminals to distribute their malware. Apple and BlackBerry mobile devices have a more restricted app environment, and Windows Phone simply lacks the numbers to make a dent.
Another part of the problem is Android devices receive updates less frequently than PCs. In the United States, most Android devices run a version of the OS that is customized for each manufacturer, model and carrier. When Google releases a new version of the stock OS, the device manufacturer must test and tweak the OS for each supported device and carrier.
Top 20 Mobile Malware Infections of 2014
The report also gave information on the top 20 malware programs installed on Android devices. Six of the top 20 list consists of spyware apps that can monitor phone calls, SMS/MMS messages and track the user’s location via GPS data. Three spots went to adware programs. The rest of the list is made up of a wide variety of malicious apps.
Some apps open back doors into the device and allow the attacker to steal data for identity theft. A few are apps that send SMS messages to premium numbers to charge users on their phone bill. Others allow attackers to use the device as a proxy for illicit internet activity. There’s even a bot app that makes the mobile device part of a botnet, a type of malware usually targeted at PCs. New on the list this year are two ransomware programs, which claim to encrypt the information on the device and attempt to extort money from the user.
Mobile Malware is Growing in Sophistication
In the past mobile malware mainly consisted of adware, but some of the malware on the list have features previously targeted exclusively toward traditional computers. As the number of mobile devices grows and the device become more powerful, they will become an increasingly attractive target for hackers.