Mobile malware up 77 per cent in 2014

"We were expecting an increase, but not of this magnitude"

Mobile users encountered malware 75 per cent more often in 2014 compared to 2013, according to a new report from San Francisco-based mobile security firm Lookout, Inc.

The mobile malware encounter rate was 7 per cent last year, up from 4 per cent in 2013, largely due to the proliferation of new ransomware campaigns such as ScarePakage.

"We were expecting an increase, but not of this magnitude," said Aaron Cockerill, the company's vice president of enterprise products.

And the threats aren't just more common. They are also far more sophisticated and increasingly dangerous from an enterprise perspective, he said.

"We've seen a significant increase in both the frequency and sophistication of attacks that would truly represent a concern for the enterprise, like exploits that would let the bad guys get access to corporate networks," he said. "We also saw a greater prevalence and sophistication of applications that enable rooting or jail breaking the device."

For enterprises in particular, the top security threats associated with mobile devices are loss of sensitive data and illicit access to corporate networks.

"The threats that we found targeted both of these issues," Cockerill said.

The report, which was based on aggregated data from Lookout's over 60 million global users, also said that more than 4 million Android users in the US encountered ransomware, with some victims forced to pay as much as $500 to unlock their devices.

According to Jeremy Linden, the company's senior security product manager, malware typically gets onto devices through drive-by downloads from infected websites, and through malicious links in spam emails.

For the most part, the infections target Android devices.

Windows phones? Not so much.

"Anecdotally, the word is that this platform isn't popular enough to inspire any malware creators to write stuff for it, but that might change in the future," Linden said. "Just like BlackBerry."

The Apple iOS platform is less attractive to malware writers because of the curated app store and walled garden architecture.

"We've seen a couple of iOS threats that popped up late last year, like WireLurker, but our telemetry shows that these threats are not in any way significant as far as prevalence, and limited to specific geographies like China," Linden said. "And due to the fact that they only work on jailbroken devices, it's hard to see the kind of prevalence as we see on Android devices in the US."

However, that doesn't necessarily mean that enterprises should assume iPhones are completely secure just because there are fewer attacks.

"The nature of the attacks that we see on iOS tend to be more targeted and, as a result of being more targeted, they're less prevalent from a broad numbers game," said Cockerill.

So if a company is targeted, the attack could come over that vector as well as anywhere else. Plus, users are less aware of iOS risks, so are less prepared to respond if something does happen.

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