McAfee Offers New Privacy Protection to Android Device Users

New features in McAfee's Mobile Security software are aimed at keeping dangerous Android apps from stealing personal information.

McAfee is expanding its mobile security solution with privacy features to protect Android tablet and smartphone users from apps that may look to access personal information on their devices.

At a time when the number of cyber-attacks on Android-based devices is skyrocketing, McAfee's Mobile Security software also reports to the user apps that may be associated with risky Websites or may be sending personal information to those sites, according to McAfee officials. The new App Alert feature does this by checking the apps against a URL reputation database, which is part of McAfee's Global Threat Intelligence Network, according to company officials.

The goal of the security software, announced Aug. 20, is to protect users from viruses, identity theft and financial fraud, all of which are becoming increasing concerns, given the rapidly growing use of mobile devices for everything from paying bills and shopping online from their smartphones and tablets to accessing social networks, and the number of users that aren't savvy to how permissions of them by apps can hamper security.

"Android apps can ask for 124 types of permissions-these apps could be invading your privacy and exposing your personal life," Luis Blando, vice president of engineering at McAfee, said in a statement. "With McAfee Mobile Security, consumers can now filter their App Alert notifications to just those apps that are using permissions of interest or concern to the user."

Google's Android mobile OS continues to be a popular target for cyber-criminals, given the diverse and open app marketplace where developers can post their software.

At the same time, Android's market share continues to grow, as does the sheer number of Android-based devices. (According to ComScore, in the first quarter this year, 51 percent of U.S. smartphone subscribers have Android-based devices, compared with Apple's 30 percent share.)

The result has been a rapid increase in the amount of malware directed at Android. According to a report in February from Juniper Networks, the amount of malware targeting Android in the last seven months of 2011 jumped 3,325 percent in 2011 over the year before, and Android malware accounted for about 46.7 percent of unique malware samples that targeted mobile platforms. Java Mobile Edition was second, at 41 percent.

"Hackers are incented to target Android, because there are simply more Android devices as compared to the competition," Daniel Hoffman, chief mobile security evangelist at Juniper, said at the time.

McAfee, which is owned by Intel, also has seen increases this summer in threats aimed at Android devices. These threats include everything from Short Message Service- (SMS-) sending malware and mobile botnets to spyware and Trojans, according to officials.

They urged users to research apps and their publishers before installing them, and that they also should make sure to only download apps from reputable app store markets. On its Google Play market, Google uses its "Bouncer" service to scan apps for threats, removing those that are considered risky.

In addition, users should be wary of permissions requested by apps-and to not install apps that seem suspicious-and use antivirus software on their phones, McAfee officials said.

McAfee's Mobile Security software is available from both the company and from the Google Play app store for $29.99. It also is available as part of the McAfee All Access suite of products.