Mobile malware trick: Give users real apps, plus infection on the side

New trick, wrapping malware around good code, gives profit-oriented malware a boost

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Since 2009 malware writers with a yen for mobile hardware and the clink of hard Bitcoin have been doing something unusual in the malware market – using it increasingly as a way to make money rather than just mess with people.

Sounds obvious, right? Why else would you produce malware? Even Trojans that build botnets are designed to create a malicious resource that ultimately makes the developer money, right?

According to F-Secure's Q1 Mobile Threat Report, which was published earlier this week, very little malware aimed at mobile devices ever had a profit motive behind it. At least, that's the way it was from 2004 to 2009, when Android was first introduced.

Malware with a profit motive actually began to increase in 2006, started to snowball, from 18 percent in 2008 to 68 percent in 2009.

In 2010 and 2011 the percentages dropped, to 51 percent and 52 percent, respectively. The overall numbers increased exponentially, though, driving the number of profit-oriented malware even higher.

The combination of outright profit motive and the solid, popular Android development platform has attracted a different type of malware producers – more focused on efficacy and payback – that made Android a base of fans and software developers its actual users could do without.

"The most credible threat is coming from hackers who want to profit monetarily with their attacks," according to F-Secure’s Chief Research Officer Mikko Hypponen. "Right now we’re seeing more profit-motivated mobile malware than ever before."

Each bit of malware comes with a family of variants, making the overall numbers of unique threats look artificially low.

During the first quarter of 2011, for example, F-Secure found 10 new types of malware; this year the number was 37, almost four times as many as the year before.

Individual Android applications turned into malware also spiked (they're the members of those 37 malware families).

In 2011 there were 3,063 individual APKs that turned out to be malware, compared to 139 the year before.

The curve is interesting, too. A bar chart of bad APKs found each month of 2011 stays low, low, low until September, when it jumps from 105 to 267.

It goes up sharply from 267 to 373 in October, 646 in November, and then shoots straight up to 1639 in December.

During the first quarter of this year the number of mobile threats on Android jumped to more than 7,000, according to another malware report, this time from McAfee security.

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