Android Malware Skyrockets In 2012
April 15, 2013

Malware Found On Nearly 33 Million Android Devices In 2012

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

A new study from mobile security provider NQ Mobile found that malware on mobile devices grew by 163 percent in 2012, with Android being the platform most targeted. The news probably won´t get any better, says NQ. Cyber-villains will only get more creative as the years pass and find new ways to break into mobile devices.

These findings are particularly disturbing given that users are developing a deep and intimate connection with their mobile devices, storing more personal data on their handhelds than their PCs. All told, NQ found more than 65,000 distinct forms of malware apps, dirty links and SMS phishing. NQ also develops an Android app that helps protect against malicious attacks.

Not only are cyber-villains choosing Android over any other platform as a point of attack, they´re also finding new ways to break into these devices. In February, NQ discovered a piece of malware that had hijacked a cache-clearing app. This app would wait inside the Android device until it was connected to a PC. Once the device was hooked up via USB, the app made its way onto the computer and infected it.

Though NQ didn´t see this attack carried out in many instances, they did warn that this kind of attack could become more common in the future. This is a trend which has been occurring since 2009. In that year, NQ found only 1,649 pieces of malware on mobile devices. This number jumped to 6,760 in 2010 and more than tripled the following year to nearly 25,000.

Today´s NQ report found that nearly 33 million Android devices were infected in 2012 alone — an increase of 200 percent over 2011. Though a large number, 33 million still represents a small percentage of the total number of Android users worldwide. The NQ report also found that these attacks were more likely to happen in China than in any other country. More than 25 percent of these attacks occurred in China, while 19.4 percent took place in India and 17.9 percent affected Russian Android phones. Attacks happened less frequently in the United States, which accounts for only 9.8 percent of all infected devices.

According to TechCrunch, these kind of attacks could become more common in the future as more people connect with their phones than their PCs.

Android often faces criticism for being a fragmented OS. When Google releases a new update, it has to be pushed through to handset manufacturers and carriers alike, meaning that the end user may not get the latest update for many months after its release, if they ever get it at all. This, says NQ, is also a problem for security. If a phone can´t receive the latest updates, they may become vulnerable to specific attacks. NQ also blames app-side loading and a younger user base for these high Android malware numbers.

Though Android may be an easier target for malware developers, many users claim the best way to avoid being infected is to treat the device as one would a traditional PC. For instance, it´s common knowledge that you should never click on any suspicious links in an email or on an unfamiliar website. If a dialogue box pops up and asks to download an app, it´s best to click away. The same rules can be applied to Android phones.

According to beloved TechHive Pundit Andy Ihnatko, the best way to avoid Android malware is to shop exclusively in the Google Play store.

“Want to drop the risk to almost nil? Spend all of five or ten seconds looking at the app description in the Play Store before installing,” writes Ihnatko in a piece explaining why he chose the Galaxy S III over the iPhone.

“Yes, an Android phone is less safe than an iPhone“¦ but that doesn´t make it ℠unsafe.´ The best practices I use when installing new software on an Android device are no different from what I use with my iPhone. Overall, I don´t feel as though my Galaxy S III is any riskier to use.”