Nearly one out of every 63 smartphones running the Symbian operating system is infected with some form of spyware, virus, worm or Trojan, as well as hundreds of unlicensed software programs installed on the handsets, according to a study conducted by SMobile Systems. A comparison of the statistics with the worldwide smartphone population places the number of infected devices globally in the millions.
Since the vast majority of these infections are designed to be stealthy and as few smartphones posses anti-malware applications, most infected users are unaware that their devices have been compromised.
"As more and more people carry smartphones, the target-rich environment is proving to be incredibly tempting to hackers, spammers and criminals looking to steal vital information on these handsets," SMobile Systems President Neil Book said in a statement. "With millions upon millions of new devices in the market, the likelihood of unwanted infection increases. The sophistication and ease of spreading malware is escalating; as such, the need for handset-based security has never been greater."
Book added that throughout 2009 SMobile's Global Threat Center has seen a marked increase in the capabilities of new malware infecting mobile devices. The frequency of attacks has also increased. Threats include malware transmitted through Bluetooth, SMS (Short Message Service), MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) or e-mail, as well as spyware that is downloaded from various online application and shareware Websites.
"These attacks are very concerning and financially motivated. The spyware we are detecting has the ability to intercept e-mail and SMS messages, allow hackers to listen in on voice conversations and even track the location of the user," said Daniel Hoffman, CTO of SMobile. "This can have devastating repercussions to those performing online financial transactions [or] mobile banking or having sensitive business-oriented communications. Additionally, worms are unknowingly sending premium SMS messages from infected devices, directly charging user cell phone accounts."