McAfee confirms Android as favourite mobile target

Android bad, iOS good -- except in the jailbroken circle of hell

On one wall of McAfee's expensive-looking executive briefing centre in Santa Clara, California, a live feed from the company's Global Threat Intelligence system displays the names of malware variants as they're detected in real time -- red LEDs on shiny black acrylic.

Two days ago, malware aimed at Google's Android operating system stood out from the more familiar desktop threats.

"That reflects what we're seeing in real life, a significant growth in mobile malware," said Michael Sentonas, McAfee's chief technology officer and vice president for the Asia-Pacific region.

The McAfee Threats Report: Second Quarter 2011 (PDF), for example, showed a 238 percent increase in the number of mobile malware variants compared with the period ending six months earlier.

"It seems to be the hot topic at the moment that everybody in the security industry is talking about," Sentonas said. Yet he takes a measured view of this trend.

"Whilst there is a significant shift in the amount of [mobile] malware, it's a significant shift off an extremely small base. So statistically it looks quite interesting, but we still need to take a view that we are still in the infancy of this type of a challenge."

The total number of discrete mobile malware variants catalogued by McAfee to the end of June 2011 was a mere 1200 or so. It hardly compares with the total number of malware samples in their database at the end of September: more than 71 million.

Yet it's clear from McAfee's data that Android is the target of choice, confirming the emerging industry consensus.

"We are now seeing more new Android malware threats than all the other operating systems combined," said John Dasher, a senior director in McAfee's product and solution marketing team specialising in mobility.

Apple iOS, by comparison, didn't see a single new threat last quarter — at least for non-jailbroken devices.

"Jailbroken and rooted devices are kind of a special circle of hell. That's where you really start to run into problems in terms of what malware can do and what kind of a foothold it can get," he told the media at the Focus 11 conference in Las Vegas.

Indeed, non-jailbroken iOS devices are so locked down that it isn't even possible to do a full virus scan, he said.

Dasher recommends that corporate IT security policies ban jailbroken devices.

Stilgherrian is attending McAfee's Focus 11 security conference in Las Vegas as their guest

Contact Stilgherrian at or follow him on Twitter at @stilgherrian

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