Mobile cyber threats are getting worse

Malware of all kinds keeps spreading on computing platforms. But mobile malware grew at a particularly fast clip in 2010, according to McAfee.

Mobile malware was up 46 percent in 2010 to 967 threats, compared to 704 in 2009, according to the McAfee Threats Report for the fourth quarter.

That’s small compared to PC threats, but the trend is clear. The renewed interest in attacking mobile platforms comes as smartphones and tablets become a primary computing tool for millions of users. If this trend continues, mobile security may begin to consume as much resources as PC security, which accounts for billions of dollars in investment.

Altogether McAfee said there were 20 million new pieces of malware in 2010, equating to nearly 55,000 new malware threats each day. That’s because cyber criminals are able to automate the creation of new variants of malware. To date, McAfee has identified 55 million pieces of malware, and 360 percent of those were created in 2010.

Spam saw a surprising decline recently. Spam accounted for 80 percent of total email traffic in the fourth quarter. That was the lowest level since the first quarter of 2009. But McAfee said the decline is only because several large spam botnets (or herds of compromised computers that are controlled by cybercriminals) were taken down and spammers are moving to new botnets.

Vincent Weafer, senior vice president of McAfee Labs, said there is a direct correlation between the popularity of a device and attacks against the device. One of the most high-profile threats was SymbOS/Zitmo.A, which attacked phones with the Symbian operating system, which is still the most popular mobile platform despite Nokia’s significant loss of market share. Another prominent threat was Android/Geinimi, which hid a Trojan in legitimate Android mobile apps.

McAfee said that attacks against mobile platforms were also successful because so many mobile users aren’t aware of mobile security threats. People who believe in putting antivirus software on a PC don’t think about doing that for mobile phones.

Overall, malware keeps spreading. McAfee found that, within the top 100 results of the top daily search terms, 51 percent of the results led to malicious sites. McAfee said that Adobe product vulnerabilities have turned software such as Adobe’s PDFs into prime carriers of malware. McAfee said that trend would continue, as mobile devices support various Adobe technologies.

[image credit: ShaswatPatel]

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