Mobile malware is going to get much worse

Makers of malware are waking up to the proliferation of smartphones. Of unwanted code found on smartphones, half of it is now malware compared to just 34 percent in January this year.

According to Lookout’s mobile threat report, there has been a rise in applications infected with malware, jumping from 80 to 400 unique apps in just six months since January. Lookout believes Russia and East Asia to be most at risk of infection, with a four percent infection rate of likelihood per year.

Users should be careful not to download repackaged apps. It’s a kind of social engineering, says Lookout, enticing you with genuine applications rebranded and injected with stuff like DroidDreamLight. Android users are particularly at risk. Third party app stores are where you’re most likely to run into repackaged, malicious apps.

A way malicious code writers want to get their apps to you is what Lookout calls shotgun distribution. Basically it’s spray-and-pray – open as many developer accounts with different names as possible and publish them everywhere you can. 

Experienced web users know not to fall for dodgy claims from unknown sources on banner ads, but it’s another way malicious coders want to get their app to you. The writer buys mobile ads so something that appears semi-legitimate appears on your screen, offering a game request or promoting another app. It redirects you to a third party app download and that’s when you’re in trouble. 

Once infected, you can expect to be making some dosh for a rogue developer through SMS billing.

Or your device can be turned into a bot, contributing to a botnet which can send SMS messages, install or remove applications, open web pages, tinker with servers or open unsolicited web pages.

Then there’s surveillance tracking and data mining which opens up a whole new can of worms in privacy. Data is the new gold, and every device hosts valuable information not just about you, but your contacts too.

What we can expect is for everything to get a lot worse. Lookout claims what took decades to fine tune on the PC is already evolving very fast in mobile. Although malware is clearly growing, it’s still very much in its infancy. As with PCs it’s worth taking common sense precautions and considering where an app comes from and how you can trust it.

LookOut’s full report is here