Malicious Web ads outpace pornography as 2014's biggest mobile threat

Advertisements with embedded malware have outpaced pornographic Web content as the biggest threat to the security of mobile devices, new figures from security firm Blue Coat suggest.

The company's 2014 Mobile Malware Report relayed the reports of the Blue Coat Security Labs (BCSL), which found that what it called 'malvertising' had more than tripled in frequency over the past year. One in every five Web ads directing mobile Web users to malware, on average.

The figures were based on traffic analysis that found pornography was still a significant source of malware infection, with visits to pornographic sites accounting for less than one percent of all requested content but 16 percent of all malware attacks.

Web ads, however, comprised 12 per cent of requested content and 20 per cent of mobile device infections. This was up substantially from the company's November 2012 figures, which found that just 5.69 per cent of content was Web advertisements and 22.16 per cent was pornography.

"What a difference a year makes," the company's analysis noted. "Last year, pornography was the leading threat vector for mobile users. This year, it had dropped nearly six points and is the third leading threat vector. Yet while users don't access pornography that frequently, when they do, they are very vulnerable to malware."

Blue Coat's analysis found that changes in consumer behaviour were largely to blame, with mobile users far more likely to consume "recreational" content. Such content comprised 11.74 per cent of content requested by mobile users, compared with jut 6.69 per cent of content requested by desktop users.

While Web advertisements had gained currency as vectors for mobile malware infection, BCSL failed to find "any real commitment to mobile malware" within the malware networks it is tracking. The Shnakule malnet "dabbles in" the delivery of mobile malware but prefers premium SMS scams, but overall the report said the profile of mobile malware remains low.

"It could be that the behaviour we are seeing among malnets is an attempt to find vulnerabilities and adapt the infrastructures to these mobile environments," the report notes, adding that most malware currently targeting mobiles is "still pretty basic" and confined to potentially unwanted applications (PUAs) and SMS scams.

PUAs generally disguise themselves as legitimate games or other apps, then collect information about the user and the infected device as well as potentially harvesting aggregate data about mobile users' habits, interests, or Web searches using built-in analytics tools.

The pervasiveness of such apps and their lack of transparency "sets users up to fail by putting them at greater risk for privacy violations," the report notes. "It also makes it impossible for users to make risk-based decisions about the apps they want to use and the information they want to share."

Mobile malware is expected to play an ongoing and growing threat into the future, the company notes. "Blue Coat predicts that mobile malware will continue to present a threat to users both in the corporate and home environment," the report notes.

"The makers of mobile phone operating systems would do well to help users better manage how, when, and with whom mobile applications can communicate with the outside world."

This article is brought to you by Enex TestLab, content directors for CSO Australia.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags mobile security

More about Blue Coat SystemsCSOEnex TestLabmobiles

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by David Braue

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place