Malware becomes the measure of success in smartphone market

Android takes the lead with disappointingly small number of threats, as iOS struggles with none.

The disappearance of the nonexistent WebOS leaves no gap in the lineup of smartphone OS vendors elbowing each other for attention and market share, but somehow it increased the amount of pushing and shoving in the scrum, anyway.

Microsoft is tarting itself up for ISVs, HTC decided to stick with Android for its smartphones rather than building a smartphone OS from scratch, which it talked about but wasn't going to do anyway.

Apple, which doesn't leak pre-release information under any circumstances, especially when it would boost its visibility a bit at a critical time in the marketing hype cycle, had absolutely no role in letting it be known that a cheaper version of the iPhone 4 is on the way (with less memory) and that the iPhone 5 would be even awesomer than it Apple didn't say it would be when Apple wasn't talking about the iPhone 5 before.

iPhone 5, Apple didn't say, will be a dual-mode "world" phone that supports both CDMA and GSM networks, bridging the gap between the two and giving customers the ability to lose calls on nearly any network in the world.

Google's Android – after the big excitement following the announcement Google would buy Motorola and the confusion that eventually followed as even Google tried to figure out why – had nothing new going for it so far this week, until today.

According to a report security firm McAfee (PDF)released just today, Android has taken the lead among all smartphone and tablet operating systems for the number of individual bits of malware designed specifically for it.

A jump of 76 percent in the number of bits of malware designed for it put Android ahead of Symbian and J2ME, both of which have been around and available for infection far longer than Android.

The number of bits of malware designed for Android jumped 76 percent during the second calendar quarter, many of the new entries disguising themselves as legitimate apps.

Percentages are often more impressive than numbers, however. The total number of Android malware threats is only 44.

Still, the number of malware makers abandoning Symbian in favor of Android indicates a major market shift, according to my favorite line in any story about this report, which equates malware writers with rats leaving Symbian as it sinks for Android, "a more seaworthy vessel."

The number of malware variants for Windows also dropped, though those designed for Adobe products have increased, primarily because the number of Adobe products in use has also increased, the report said.

Android's malware count may only be 44, but that's 44 more than iOS, which has no specific threats identified so far in the wild, the McAfee report said.

Apple's OS X, on the other hand, is drawing malicious apps to itself like moths to a flame – the flame being the increasing number of companies adopting OS X after the iPhone cracked the wall between "serious" business computers and Macintoshes.

"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,'" the report read.

Fingers crossed, Apple. This may be your quarter. You only have to beat 44 on the malware list to take the lead.

Good luck.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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