A recent report is showing the rapid growth and evolution of mobile malware into a profitable business for attackers. Malware is dominated by schemes targeting Google's Android operating system.
From March 2012 through March 2013, mobile malware threats were growing at a rapid rate of 614 percent to 276,259 total malicious apps, demonstrating an exponentially higher cyber criminal interest in exploiting mobile devices, according to Juniper Networks's third annual Mobile Threats Report (MTC.)
Additionally, malware writers are increasingly behaving like profit-motivated businesses when designing new attacks and malware distribution strategies. Attackers are maximizing their return on investment by focusing 92 percent of all MTC detected threats at Android, which has a commanding share of the global smartphone market. According to analyst firm Canalys, Android devices accounted for 67.7 percent of all smartphones shipped in 2012 and is projected to ship more than 1 billion smartphones in 2017. Attackers are also leveraging loosely regulated third-party app marketplaces to distribute malware and more quickly get threats on the market.
According to the report, malware for the Android operating system has increased at a staggering rate since 2010, growing from 24 percent of all mobile malware that year to 92 percent by March 2013.
Attackers made strides to shorten the supply chain and find more agile methods to distribute their wares into the wild around the globe. The MTC identified more than 500 third-party Android application stores worldwide, most with very low levels of accountability or oversight, that are known to be hosting mobile malware -- preying on unsuspecting mobile users as well as those with jail-broken iOS mobile devices. Of the malicious third-party stores identified by the MTC, three out of five originate from either China or Russia.
Almost three-fourths (73 percent) of all known malware are FakeInstallers or SMS Trojans, which exploit holes in mobile payments to make a quick and easy profit. These threats trick people into sending SMS messages to premium-rate numbers set up by attackers. Based on research by the MTC, each successful attack instance can yield approximately $10 USD in immediate profit. The MTC also found that more sophisticated attackers are developing intricate botnets and targeted attacks capable of disrupting and accessing high-value data on corporate networks.
The fragmented Android ecosystem keeps the vast majority of devices from receiving new security measures provided by Google, which could leave users exposed to even known threats. According to Google, as of June 3, 2013, only four percent of Android phone users were running the latest version of the operating system, which provides mitigation against the most popular class of malware measured by the MTC that makes up 77 percent of Android threats.
In addition to malicious apps, Juniper Networks found several legitimate free applications that could pose a risk of leaking corporate data on devices. Juniper Networks found free mobile applications sampled by the MTC are three times more likely to track location and 2.5 times more likely to access user address books than their paid counterparts. Free applications requesting/gaining access to account information nearly doubled from 5.9 percent in October 2012 to 10.5 percent in May 2013.