The number of detected mobile malware threats in the Android app ecosystem has increased 1200% in a single quarter, says digital security firm McAfee in its latest survey of cross-platform malware. In Q1 2012, 8,000 samples of mobile malware were collected by the firm, 7,000 of which were attacking the Android operating system. In Q4 2011, only 600 Android samples had been found, although McAfee does say that its detection schemes have been updated in recent months as well.
The company says that most of the malware schemes are aimed at profit, not maliciousness. One of the most common scams on PCs and Macs, the phony security scanner, is migrating to Android quickly. Malware researcher Carlos Castillo posted recently that a number of fake anti-virus apps are promising to remove malware from a device that is not actually present for a fee. In other cases a malware app can use a mobile device’s SMS channel to get revenue from a premium SMS number.
In general the report says that malware-infested apps are being found in third-party Android app stores and less often in the official Google Play environment. But Castillo recently found 17 suspicious apps in Google Play that appeared to be phony anti-virus programs from the same vendor. In these cases the apps were not installing malware, but were feeding adds and sending back to the developer sensitive device information. Google Play removed the apps shortly after McAfee informed them of the problem.
For media and marketers, the growing problem of malware in app environments only increases consumer reticence to experiment with unfamiliar new downloads. It raises the bar on assuring end users of the legitimacy and safety of any new offers and heightens attention to the even larger issues of apps harvesting data from cell phones.