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Malware on mobile devices jumps 155 percent since last year

Consumer Reports News: February 22, 2012 12:38 PM

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Spyware that captures and transfers data such as your GPS coordinates, text records, and browsing history is the biggest malware threat by far on mobile Android devices, according to networking firm Juniper Networks’ 2011 Mobile Threats Report.

Spyware made up nearly 64 percent of the malware the company identified in a study of over 790,000 apps. In addition, there was a 155 percent increase in malware across all mobile platforms compared to last year, the report said.

You should also beware of SMS Trojans, which accounted for about 36 percent of the malware uncovered. These send text messages to premium-rate numbers owned by the attackers without your knowledge.

Fake installers are another illegal money-making scheme, Juniper noted. These trick users into sending costly text messages and were found in third-party app stores. One example was a pirated version of a popular, legitimate app called PowerAMP. When users attempted to buy “PowerAMP” from a third-party market, they were prompted to pay for it by agreeing to have costly text messages sent from their device to the cyber-thief, who was pretending to be the developer.

Another finding is not surprising: Insecure Wi-Fi networks provide easy access to user accounts. But the trend is troubling, because gaining access that way is getting easier. The latest hacking tools simplify the process of finding users on a Wi-Fi network, grabbing their credentials, and impersonating them.

In addition to apps that were purposely malicious, Juniper discovered programs that engaged in behavior that was overreaching or not ethical, such as getting a user’s location, sending text messages, and possibly even initiating phone calls, all without the user’s consent.

There are ways to protect yourself on mobile devices. We recommend that you:

  • Avoid third-party markets

  • Understand the permissions an app requests

  • Download only popular apps with mostly positive user reviews

  • Lock your device with a pass-code

  • Use tools like remote data wiping, often available from your service provider.

For more tips on staying safe, see our story, Online Exposure.

Donna L. Tapellini

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