December 2, 2012 3:45 PM | By Maurice Cacho, MSN Tech & Gadgets

Malware ‘thriving’ on Android devices

Google’s operating system is finding its way into the palms of people’s hands — and so are security threats looking to exploit the open operating system


Google’s operating system Android is finding its way into the palms of people’s hands –and so are security threats looking to exploit the open operating system. (© Chris Ratcliffe - Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Google’s operating system Android is finding its way into the palms of people’s hands – and so are security threats looking to exploit the open operating system.

There was once a time when Windows computers were notorious for being infected with viruses, spyware and malware.

Internet security companies pumped out solutions as quickly as new threats emerged, while Microsoft tried as hard as it could to release software updates and patches to close off alarming vulnerabilities in its software.

With a significantly safer OS and tighter code, Windows 7 and now Windows 8 computers are running more smoothly than ever.

But a new security landscape is emerging. It’s one where the threats are as nimble and elusive as the devices on which they run.

Google’s operating system Android is finding its way into the palms of people’s hands — and so are security threats looking to exploit the open operating system.

Roel Schouwenberg, a senior researcher at Kaspersky Lab, says that the number of mobile malware threats is growing at exponential rates.

“It is absolutely thriving,” he says.

These threats include everything from hidden apps that spam mobile contacts to threats that could steal your banking information.

While the number of attacks is still much lower compared to Windows-based attacks, cybercriminals are focusing their mobile efforts on Android, he says.

With Apple, software updates are made available to all iPhone users at the same time, regardless of which wireless carrier someone is with – or the type of iPhone they own.

But with Android, it’s completely different. In most cases, operating system software updates must be pushed to consumers by their cellular service provider.

Most people will notice that these software updates include new features, but under the hood, Google adds a lot of security fixes and patches.

And unfortunately, very few people are able to get the latest and most secure version of Android running on their phone. Even fewer are running mobile security apps that could protect them.

The fragmentation that exists with Android users — running fundamentally different phones with different versions of the operating system — is leaving people vulnerable to security threats that could steal personal information, contact lists and banking data.

“That is a very big problem for Android that Google needs to fix,” Schouwenberg says, referring to the delays in getting software updates to consumers

Another risk with Android is that the app market isn’t locked down — any app can make its way into the Play app store.

So while an app might appear to look like something that will apply cool photographic filters to your photos, it may actually send costly messages to your contacts.

Looking ahead, Schouwenberg warns that mobile threats will really thrive once smartphone banking becomes a lot more popular.

“When people move their banking from desktop to mobile, the criminals will follow,” he says.

"We'll see that, without a doubt."

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