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Android?s growing malware problem has implications for users, marketers

Despite steps taken by Google earlier this year to address the growing problem of malware on Android devices, the rapid growth in the number of new mobile malicious programs on the platform continued in the third quarter, according to a new report from Kaspersky Labs.

The report found that Android versions 2.3.6, or Gingerbread, and 4.0.4, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich, were the most popular Android targets among cybercriminals in the third quarter. Android?s malware problem is reaching the point where it may start to force mobile users to consider another platform and raise concern for marketers.

?I do hear people choosing alternative platforms because they don't want to deal with the hassle of both malware and patch management on the Android platform,? said Roel Schouwenberg, senior research at Kaspersky Labs, Woburn, MA.

?Google's business model is clearly built around advertising and we see many different ad platforms for Android as a result,? he said. ?Some of these platforms are very aggressive and at the same time people are growing slowly more concerned about their privacy.

?After adware took over the Windows world around 2005 it took years before including a toolbar with a program became acceptable again. I definitely think marketers should be worried about a possible repeat.?

Malware scanning
Gingerbread accounted for 28 percent of all blocked attempts to install malware while Ice Cream Sandwich accounted for 22 percent of attempts.

Recognizing the growing malware problem, Google introduced Bouncer, a service that automatically scans Android for malware and filters out malicious apps, at the beginning of the year. The company continues to focus on malware, more recently adding new malware scanning capabilities for Android 4.2 Jelly Bean.

While malware scanners are an important step, the challenge Google is facing is keeping Google Play open for all developers while also keeping it clean from malware.

One of the more popular forms of malware for Android is SMS-sending Trojans that collect personal information and steal users? money. Kaspersky Labs reports that more than half of all malware detected during the third quarter are SMS Trojans.

Even though Gingerbread is an older version of Android ? it was released in September 2011 ? it is still the most popular target of cybercriminals because it is one of the most widely used versions.

Ice Cream Sandwich, which is more suitable for online activities, is also very popular with consumers. However, users actively surfing the Web often end up on malicious sites, per Kaspersky.

Exponential growth
With more than half of all malware detected on users? smartphones being SMS Trojans, Kaspersky dug a little deeper and found that the OpFake family is the most widespread, with 38.3 percent of all the malicious programs detected for Android. All of the programs in this family disguise themselves as OperaMini.

One-fifth of the malicious programs detected are versatile Trojans, most in the Plangton family, which can change bookmarks and the home page.

Malware in the Fakelnst family, the third most widespread, pretends to be installers for popular programs.

The report points to the need for consumers to be aware of malware threats in the mobile space. Kaspersky offers dedicated mobile security apps that protect against information theft via malware.

?Mobile malware is still growing exponentially, and I don't expect that to change for the coming years,? Mr. Schouwenberg.

?The cybercriminals are currently definitely focusing on the Android platform when it comes to mobile,? he said. ?Though the numbers don't yet come anywhere close when compared to the desktop world they're rising exponentially.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York