updated 12:15 pm EDT, Tue August 23, 2011
McAfee shows Android facing huge spike in malware
Malware on Android is growing rapidly enough that it's now by far the most targeted platform, McAfee said in a new study (below). The number of viruses, trojans, and other rogue pieces of code aimed at Google's platform shot up 76 percent this past spring to reach 44. While small compared to Windows, it was three times the volume of the one-time leader, Java ME, which was at 14.
Some of the examples of Android malware, such as Smsmecap and Toplank, are masquerading as legitimate apps. Many of them are badged as "crimeware" that tries to profit off the user by sending premium rate text messages and effectively stealing the target's money. On other platforms, like the BlackBerry and Symbian, paid SMS attacks have also appeared in smaller volumes.
Apple, meanwhile, remained unaffected, with no active malware that could attack a stock iPhone. The only known recorded instances so far have been four attacks on jailbroken devices that were all variants of each other. Of the major platforms, only the outgoing and much smaller webOS had the same perfect track record.
The gap wasn't directly explained by McAfee, although Symantec and others have already cast it as a matter of OS policies. Apple, while criticized for not allowing apps outside of its own store and often being strict on what apps can do, has been well-received in security studies. The requirements for signed, reviewed apps has prevented titles from installing themselves without permission, and it has blocked apps that might appear honest on the surface but compromise the lower-level OS behind the scenes.
Google's approach has offered more freedom and choice, but it has similarly attracted criticism for policies that may be too loose. Few have attacked it for letting users get apps outside of Android Market; more have leveled criticism for often doing very little to monitor incoming apps. Despite stereotypes, some full-fledged malware has reached Android Market and was only pulled after it had already done damage to users.
McAfee did acknowledge that the Apple had cut its teeth on malware through the MacDefender fake antivirus kit, but the attack appeared to be isolated and was killed off in a raid. Fake antivirus as a whole was expected to drop off. Apple is also known to have tightened security on a deeper level in Lion.