The Android malware problem is not hyped, researchers say

The security industry has a credibility problem when it comes to mobile malware, but the threat is real, according to one expert

By Lucian Constantin, IDG News Service |  Security

Recent reports from antivirus companies seem to suggest that the number of Android malware threats is growing. However, there are still many skeptics who think that the extent of the problem is exaggerated.

The security industry has an embarrassing credibility issue when it comes to mobile threats, Rik Ferguson, global vice president of security research at antivirus vendor Trend Micro, said Friday in a blog post.

Big industry vendors warned for many years that "next year" mobile malware will truly take off, but the threat never quite materialized, he said. "Now that the problem is well and truly here -- the last two years have both been called 'the year of mobile malware' at several points -- we have a problem persuading the world at large that we are not crying 'Wolf!' yet again."

One of the arguments commonly brought forward by skeptics is that Android malware mostly exists on third-party app stores that are popular in countries like China or Russia. That's not true, Ferguson said.

Trend Micro's mobile app reputation service has analyzed over 2 million mobile app samples collected from around the world and 293,091 of them have been classified as outright malicious, Ferguson said.

Almost 69,000 of those were sourced directly from Google Play, which offers around 700,000 apps in total, he said. "It's not just Chinese and Russian app stores."

A further 150,203 apps of the 2 million analyzed by Trend Micro were flagged as high risk and 22 percent of the 2 million were found to leak device and SIM card identification numbers, as well as users' contact data and telephone numbers.

In addition to apps that pose security and privacy risks, there are many apps that are undesirable for other reasons. For example, 32 percent of the analyzed apps had poor battery usage, 24 percent had poor network usage and 28 percent had poor memory usage.

The statistics shared by Ferguson come one day after security firm F-Secure released a report saying that Android malware accounted for 96 percent of new mobile threats discovered during the fourth quarter of 2012 and 79 percent of all mobile threats discovered during 2012.

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