Malware Makes Headway Against Android Devices: McAfee Report

In its third-quarter threat report, McAfee finds attackers increasingly focus on mobile devices and use digital signature to make code seem more legitimate.

While North American mobile users remain insulated from malicious software by the security measures surrounding the major platforms, mobile malware has made headway in other parts of the world, according to security firm McAfee.

McAfee discovered almost 700,000 new variants of malware aimed at Android-based mobile devices, according to the company's third-quarter threat report released on Nov. 20. While the Google Play store continues to weed out most malware, countries in the Asia-Pacific region, where McAfee counts a significant number of its mobile-security users, have a far greater problem with infections, Mike Fey, chief technology officer for McAfee, told eWEEK. Approximately 7 percent of all users in the APAC region had a device attacked by malware each month, he said.

"In the APAC region, they have many more app stores and you have fundamentally different user behavior—they are more likely to use a nonofficial app store—than you do in the United States," Fey said.

While the number of malicious programs produced for mobile devices, specifically the Android operating system, has skyrocketed, the number of unique variants remains orders of magnitude below those produced for PCs. In 2011, for example, Symantec recorded 403 million unique malware variants affecting personal computers. In the latest quarter, McAfee discovered nearly 20 million samples, the report stated.

Mobile devices are still a nascent arena for cyber-criminals. Strategies for turning compromised devices into cash are not obvious, and the security of the app stores and operating systems combine to make the major platforms difficult to compromise. Yet, attackers are making headway, says Fey.

"The reality is that we will have to deal with security in the mobile environment; the question is where do you deal with it, which part of the supply chain?" Fey said. "Based on the user models, different parts of the ecosystem can deal with it."

If the application stores, such as Google Play and Apple's App Store, do a good job with security, they may be enough. However, third-party security software could be necessary to make up for any shortcomings. In addition, companies need mobile device management software to help manage their fleet of devices and data-protection software to add security to any business data on employees' devices.

McAfee's Q3 Threat Report also noted an ongoing increase in the number of malware samples that use a digital signature to attempt to evade operating systems' defenses. More than 1.5 million samples, nearly 8 percent of the total, were signed using a digital signature.

The amount of malware aimed at computers running Mac OS X grew at the same rate as the previous quarter, with only about 300 new threats detected in Q3, according to McAfee's report.

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos is an award-winning freelance journalist who has covered information security, cybercrime and technology's impact on society for almost two decades. A former research engineer, he's...