There’s always a price to be paid for success. In the case of Android’s growing popularity as an operating system, that price is its unwanted new status as the top mobile malware target.
In the first quarter of 2011, that undesirable spot was occupied by Nokia’s Symbian, as it had been for many years. In the second quarter, however, Android malware soared by 76 percent to become the most frequently attacked mobile OS by far, according to research by digital security specialist firm McAfee.
That mirrors the relative market share held by the six major mobile operating system. Gartner reported that in August 2011, Android had 43.4 percent market share, up from 17.2 percent in the first quarter. Symbian dropped to 22.1 percent from 40.9 percent in the same time period. Apple’s iOS grew to 18.2 percent in Q2 from 14.1 percent in Q1. Research in Motion, Samsung’s Bada and Microsoft make up almost all of the rest (see chart, below).
As McAfee said in its quarterly Threats Report, “This year we have seen record breaking numbers of malware, especially on mobile devices, where the uptick is in direct correlation to popularity.”
Another factor is the way malware gets in to mobile phones. Android is an open platform, and even though there is an official Android Market, apps also can come from anyone and anywhere. If an app has something evil lurking in it, users can unwittingly download and install malware.
Apple, by contrast, approves every app and controls the entire ecosystem, which provides a great deal of security against unwanted intruders.
One of the biggest malware threats looking forward, regardless of platform or operating system, is what McAfee calls fake anti-virus software. That’s when a user gets an alert that their device is infected or their security software needs an update, and acting on that alert gives the malware access into the roots of the OS.
“Among the specific families we track, fake anti-virus software (a.k.a. fake-alert or rogue anti-virus software) continues to show consistent growth and has even begun to climb aboard a new platform: the Mac,” the report said. “You read that right; fake-AV for Apple’s platform is now a reality. This does not surprise us at McAfee Labs. There are more Mac users than ever before as well as steady business adoption. This puts the Apple platforms squarely in the crosshairs of malware authors. It will be interesting to see if this type of malware makes its way to the iPhone and iPad as well. It is probably a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if.’”
McAfee Quarterly Threats Report (PDF) – http://tinyurl.com/3e3jkoa