If you’re a user of Google’s mobile operating system Android and concerned about your smartphone’s security, expect to worry more in the coming months.
“[W]e see as the main trend for 2013 an exponential growth of mobile malware,” cyber security software maker Eset predicts this week in its 2013 trends report [PDF].
Driving the interest of cybercriminals in the mobile market, Eset says, is the rapid adoption of smartphones, particularly those running Android, and the increased use of the devices for monetary transactions.
The volume of malware designed for mobile devices is a direct response to the speed at which the technology is being adopted, according to Eset’s report. “If the market grows and technology is enhanced, then as long as users who use these devices to store an increasing amount of sensitive information do not adopt the necessary measures, it is logical to expect cybercriminals to create computer threats to profit from this situation.”
Eset researchers also observe, “There is a direct parallel here to what has happened with personal computers, but at a much slower pace over a much longer period.”
The report notes that Android now has more than 64 percent of the smartphone market, compared to 43 percent in 2011. “As Android’s market share rises and people use it more and more to store personal and corporate information, or for online banking or related services, cyber criminals will develop more malware to steal information, thus gaining illicit revenue.”
The researchers predict that next year, 530 million people will access banking services from their smartphones; it’s a 76 percent jump from 2011, when only 300 million people banked on their mobile phones.
Favorite malware methods
Eset notes that Android malware typically contains one of three malicious payloads. A large number of malware programs (40 percent) clandestinely subscribed their victims to premium SMS services. About a third (32 percent) of bad apps turned the devices they infect into zombies, which can be controlled by an ether thief. More than a quarter (28 percent) of malicious apps steal information from a phone.
Spreading pernicious payloads through infected websites will also continue to grow in 2013, Eset forecasts.
A factor contributing to increased interest in poisoned websites to spread malware has been the decline of “thumb” flash drives as popular infection vehicles for cybercriminals.
The introduction of the first commercial version of Windows XP in 2001 and the massive uptake of removable storage devices marked the beginning of the era of worms that spread through those media by exploiting a Windows XP design vulnerability called Autorun, the report explained.
“Given that this problem was solved in 2009 and that users have migrated towards new versions of Microsoft Windows, the number of malicious programs still using this technique has diminished in the past few years,” Eset notes.
“Though there is no shortage of malware that includes it on the off chance of finding an unpatched system,” it adds.
Eset outlined in its report how Web miscreants proliferate their malicious wares through infected websites:
First, an existing vulnerability is exploited in a web server and malicious code is injected into the site.
Then, targets are steered to the infected site through hyperlinks sent to a list of users through email, social networks, or any other means.
When the target visits the site, the malware is downloaded to their computer or smartphone, where it performs its pernicious actions.
According to Eset’s report, “Malware targeting Android will not only keep on rising at a considerable rate, but also will continue to evolve until they are very similar in capability to their peers in the world of more traditional computers.”
John Mello writes on technology and cyber security for a number of online publications and is former managing editor of the Boston Business Journal and Boston Phoenix. Disclosure: He also writes for Hewlett-Packad's marketing website TechBeacon.