Malware creators embraced mobile, cryptoransom malware last year

"The big news last year was the dramatic increase of attacks on mobile"

The malware landscape changed last year compared to previous years, with attackers increasingly focus on the mobile channel and embracing cryptoransomware, according to a new report from Trend Micro.

Between 2012 and 2013 the number of mobile malware and high-risk apps more than doubled to 1.4 million, and the number nearly tripled in 2014 - to 4.3 million malicious Android apps.

There were also a handful of iOS malware reported last year, but the count did not exceed the single digits for any month of the year.

"The big news last year was the dramatic increase of attacks on mobile," said Tom Kellermann, chief cybersecurity officer at Trend Micro Inc.

In particular, the number of mobile apps related to banking or finance grew from about a dozen at the start of 2013 to a peak of more than 2,000 in 2014.

The tactics used are also changing, he said.

"More and more attacks are being leveraged by the use of exploit kits, but also by the use of shortened URLs and watering hole attacks," he said.

A watering hole attack is one which targets a normally trusted website that's regularly visited by employees of a particular organization.

In fact, the total number of phishing sites increased 89 percent in 2014, from 1.98 million in 2013 to 3.74 million last year, as a result of cheap domain registrations and ready-made website templates.

The number of computers infected with ransomware worldwide also dropped last year, from 84,000 in 2013 to 48,000 in 2014.

However, crypto-ransomware infections increased more than seven-fold, from 2,000 to 15,000.

Trend Micro also reported an increase in Point of Sale malware.

And retailers were no longer the sole PoS system breach targets, the report said, as attackers also turned their sights on hotels, restaurants, and parking lots among others.

The number of POS RAM scraper families grew from three in 2013 to ten last year, and the malware became more robust, adding more technologically advanced capabilities.

On a positive note, the number of zero-day vulnerabilities declined last year.

But that doesn't mean that enterprises are more secure.

"The hackers of today don't necessarily need to invent new malware," said Killermann. "You're seeing more and more builder code being used. And hackers are using pre-existing malware and delivering it through new mechanisms."

"There's also been a dramatic migration of traditional criminals into cyberspace," said Kellermann, citing Trend Micro's own research and its collaboration with Interpol. "They don't have to be programmers or coders to get into the game."

However, he could not provide specific numbers.

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