Mobile Malware Up Nearly 400% on Android in 2013

It’s not exactly a secret that Android apps are risky. Due to the unregulated nature of the Google Play Store, just about anyone with a codebook and a few extra hours in their day can easily launch an application that claims to do one thing, while secretly executing another on your phone, tablet, or Chromebook.

Unlike Apple’s App Store, the fatal flaw on Android is simply the open source architecture of the operating system itself, allowing those who don’t have the time to learn all the ins and outs of iOS a quick and painless avenue to millions of potentially unsecured and unprotected mobile devices.

According to a recent report from the metrics company RiskIQ, the proliferation of Android malware has risen a staggering 388 percent rise between 2011 and 2013, presenting thousands of new threats that are entering the marketplace each and every day.

Gathered by the RiskIQ for Mobile service, the data is the result of a global proxy network designated to monitor the lines and keep its ear to the ground on any and all current or upcoming threats for the Android platform.

The malware programs in question had one or more of the following defining characteristics that put them up for scrutiny by the research team at RiskIQ:

  • Automatically signing an infected phone up for premium SMS services
  • Tracking and transmitting GPS coordinates, email accounts, contacts, and more back to malicious servers
  • Gaining complete control of an infected device
  • Secretly recording phone conversations or voicemails
  • Spreading and delivering malware onto surrounding devices logged into the same Wi-Fi network

When all is said and done, the end result of the research is unnerving to say the least. Of the total number of apps and games available in the Google Play store, RiskIQ surmises that upwards of 15% exist solely to either distribute malware, or at the bare minimum serve as a temporary hub designed to infect as many new machines in the vicinity as possible.

One minor sign of relief on the haphazard horizon comes from Google’s own stats, which claim that of the hundreds of thousands of apps which get submitted to the store each year, around a third that contain any form of malware or spyware are rejected thanks to their new “Bouncer” program, which finally went live in early 2012.

Bouncer operates by scanning the entire database of Android applications on a bi-weekly basis, and runs a virtualized version of every update that comes in on a specialized server specifically created for the task of rooting out rootkits and nullifying any nasties that may try and take advantage of the weakened Google Play infrastructure.

Overall, it’s not hard to see that with Google’s increasingly stringent regulations on the apps allowed into its store via the Bouncer program, the eventual number of those infected with a virus will begin to decline.