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McAfee: Android malware surges 76%, iPhone untouched

updated 12:15 pm EDT, Tue August 23, 2011

McAfee shows Android facing huge spike in malware

Malware on Android is growing rapidly enough that it's now by far the most targeted platform, McAfee said in a new study (below). The number of viruses, trojans, and other rogue pieces of code aimed at Google's platform shot up 76 percent this past spring to reach 44. While small compared to Windows, it was three times the volume of the one-time leader, Java ME, which was at 14.

Some of the examples of Android malware, such as Smsmecap and Toplank, are masquerading as legitimate apps. Many of them are badged as "crimeware" that tries to profit off the user by sending premium rate text messages and effectively stealing the target's money. On other platforms, like the BlackBerry and Symbian, paid SMS attacks have also appeared in smaller volumes.

Apple, meanwhile, remained unaffected, with no active malware that could attack a stock iPhone. The only known recorded instances so far have been four attacks on jailbroken devices that were all variants of each other. Of the major platforms, only the outgoing and much smaller webOS had the same perfect track record.

The gap wasn't directly explained by McAfee, although Symantec and others have already cast it as a matter of OS policies. Apple, while criticized for not allowing apps outside of its own store and often being strict on what apps can do, has been well-received in security studies. The requirements for signed, reviewed apps has prevented titles from installing themselves without permission, and it has blocked apps that might appear honest on the surface but compromise the lower-level OS behind the scenes.

Google's approach has offered more freedom and choice, but it has similarly attracted criticism for policies that may be too loose. Few have attacked it for letting users get apps outside of Android Market; more have leveled criticism for often doing very little to monitor incoming apps. Despite stereotypes, some full-fledged malware has reached Android Market and was only pulled after it had already done damage to users.

McAfee did acknowledge that the Apple had cut its teeth on malware through the MacDefender fake antivirus kit, but the attack appeared to be isolated and was killed off in a raid. Fake antivirus as a whole was expected to drop off. Apple is also known to have tightened security on a deeper level in Lion.

by MacNN Staff



  1. stenniz

    Joined: Dec 1969


    We told you.

    I guess that says it all!

  1. Mr. Strat

    Joined: Dec 1969



    A company that sells anti-virus software produces a study which reveals massive viruses on Android.

    Who'd a thunk it?

  1. SockRolid

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Not just a weed patch

    Android's feeble Market isn't just a weed patch. It's an evil weed patch.

  1. bigmig

    Joined: Dec 1969



  1. thnikkaman

    Joined: Dec 1969



    When it comes to malware, Droid Does.

  1. Makosuke

    Joined: Dec 1969


    It's a legitimate tradeoff

    Unlike most "studies" by anti-malware companies, this one is pretty succinct and un-inflamatory.

    And it's not really a surprise--when you have an "open" system (in this case "open" meaning "allows the user to install unsigned code" rather than any of the meaningless platitudes Google has been spouting) you trade easy of entry for developers and edge-case apps for the risk of security.

    Not that Apple couldn't have well-concealed malware make it into the App store, but given the policies it'd be a LOT harder to do anonymously, and once it was discovered it'd be shut down (and, I think, remote disabled) instantly.

    Some people are, I'm sure, willing to trade safe apps for access to apps that Apple would never allow and don't work as web apps. That's perfectly reasonable. And some people, of course, would not, which is also perfectly reasonable.

    You certainly can't claim that "security by obscurity", that old Mac-safety straw man, is in effect here. 200+ million iOS devices is not a small number, and it's not all that much less than the number of Android devices floating around.

  1. facebook_Collin

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Aug 2011


    History repeats itself.

    Closed Platform vs Open Platform:

    Mac OS X = few (0) viri vs Windows = innumerable viri
    iOS = few (0) viri vs Android = many viri

    I think I will stick with the closed platforms if open hardware platforms attract infection like this.

  1. elroth

    Joined: Dec 1969


    this just in

    wrenchy called in sick - he's got that virus that's going around.

  1. facebook_Aaron

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Aug 2011


    I'm very pro-mac...

    but smart people don't need closed platforms.

    I have an android phone... no malware. Why? Because I don't download every single app that piques a single fraction of a percent of my interest.

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