updated 11:35 pm EST, Wed November 16, 2011
Android malware becoming significant issue
A new Juniper Global Threat Center study has pointed to Android malware possibly becoming a serious issue in just the past four months. The incidence in viruses, trojans, and other strains has jumped 472 percent since July, most of which has appeared in just the past two months. About 55 percent were spyware apps scraping and sending information in the background, while 44 percent were SMS trojans that send messages to premium numbers that put the bill on the caller.
The company noted that the growth was well out of proportion to Android's gain in market share, which is true both in the US and worldwide.
Researchers argued Android itself wasn't necessarily more vulnerable but that Google's loose policies towards apps were starting to create genuine problems. As apps often weren't being closely screened and apps didn't need to be signed even without approval, it was possible for hostile apps to get through. It also wasn't a virtue of support for third-party markets, since much of this screening wasn't present in Android Market and was allowing malware in Google's own store that was usually only caught later.
Android fragmentation was also creating a problem. "Nearly 90" percent of Android phones still had vulnerabilities because they were using older versions, Juniper said. Malware writers were exploiting the lack of timely updates to compromise the devices.
Some questions remain as to the true scale of the threat. McAfee recorded 44 known malware instances by the end of the spring, which if a complete record would lead to a still small 252 instances. No known instances also exist of a truly widespread outbreak, like the Blaster worm on Windows that forced Microsoft to undergo a fundamental rethink of its security model.
The performance still creates an increasing gap in real-world security between Android and iOS. Although developers and some users have criticized Apple's policies, its requirements for code signing and closer approval has also meant that Apple so far has a near-perfect record. The only known exception is a proof-of-concept attack designed by a security expert. Apple has created a culture where would-be malware writers know they're unlikely to get through, where the opposite is true for Android, Juniper said.
It also didn't expect the Android trend to slow down and was recommending that Android users install antivirus software.