Mobile Malware Is a Major Threat in India, Remains Rare in Japan

A survey of mobile security threats around the world revealed that Trojan horses are popular in Germany while adware predominates in India.

The incidence of mobile malware varies tremendously across the globe with developing nations having a larger proportion of malicious programs compared with more industrialized nations, according to data released on June 5 by mobile security firm Lookout.

In its "Mobile Threats Around the World" study released as an infographic and blog post, the company found that adware dominated all forms of malware. However, the average user's chances of encountering malware in any one-week period varied from less than 1 percent of more than 5 percent, depending on where they live.

The look at five nations showed that Indian users had a 5.5 percent probability of encountering malware in any seven-day period, while Japan had a 0.78 percent chance of being exposed.

"The mobile threats are significantly dependent on the location where the user finds themselves," said Jeremy Linden, senior product manager for Lookout. "While the vast majority of threats are adware, certain regions have to contend with other threats as well."

Trojan horse programs, which appear to be a benign application but actually allow the attacker to control the device, comprise a third of all malware in Germany and a quarter in the United Kingdom but only 13 percent of encountered threats in India. And while surveillance programs made up 14 percent of all encountered threats in the United States, they accounted for barely 1 percent in Japan.

Adware was the most common threat. The average Lookout user had a 1.6 percent chance of having adware installed on their device, Linden said. Adware is so common because it inhabits a gray area: The definition is still in flux on which advertising practices are so aggressive that they cross the line into maliciousness. In May, the company proposed guidelines for advertisers who wanted to remain off the company's list of adware developers.

"While adware is on the bottom end of the risk spectrum, it is certainly the most pervasive threat in every region of the world," Linden said. "We consider any software that disturbs your mobile experience by putting out-of-app advertisements in the notification bar or sending off personal information to a third-party server to be adware."

Globally, a user has a 0.53 percent chance of encountering a Trojan horse program in any seven-day period, and a 0.22 percent chance of encountering a chargeware program, which attempts to use premium SMS messaging or some other method to charge fees to the victim's account, according to Lookout.

"While adware is the largest threat, actual malware such as spyware and surveillance software are proliferating," Linden said.

The ability to install applications from nonofficial app stores, known as sideloading, and the ability to monetize infections through premium SMS messaging are two major indicators of the likelihood of encountering malware in any particular region. Japan does not allow premium SMS messages, thus removing a major monetization method for malware writers, which is likely the reason for the low probability of encountering malware in that country, said Linden.

Conversely, sideloading is quite common in India and other nations beyond the United States, and that is a major reason that the chance of encountering malware is so high.

"Without sideloading, it prevents you from loading the malware in the first place. And without premium SMS it prevents the malware author from making any money from his creation," he said.

While China and Russia have higher rates of infection, Lookout focused on the countries that produce the most reliable data on malware infections, Linden said.

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...