Australians lead world in avoiding mobile malware but ransomware surge could bite: McAfee

Australia has the lowest rate of mobile malware infection in the world but 5 percent of Australian mobiles are still falling prey to mobile nasties, a McAfee Labs analysis has revealed.

In a global review of current security threats, the Intel subsidiary's latest McAfee Labs Threat Report found that the overall rate of mobile malware infection had trended downward throughout 2014, from around 21 percent of all devices in the first quarter to just 8 percent of devices in the fourth quarter.

Rates of infection were measured as the percentage of times the company detected some sort of malware on reporting mobile devices.

Africa and Asia recorded the highest percentages of malware, with approximately 10 percent of devices infected each, while North America (7.5 percent), Europe (7 percent) and South America (6.8 percent) all suffering more infections than Australia.

The total number of detected malware samples had grown steadily throughout 2014, increasing from 4 million in the first quarter to more than 6 million by year's end. That was four times higher than the 1.5 million samples detected in the first quarter of 2013.

The number of new malware threats during the same time grew from 15 million to more than 50 million, with the total malware more than doubling during that time from around 130 million samples to 350 million samples.

While Australia was turning in relatively low mobile malware infection rates, another statistic from the report may give more pause for thought: the number of ransomware detections surged in the fourth quarter after three quarters of relatively flat growth. Around 260,000 new ransomware samples were detected in the fourth quarter of 2014, up from just over 100,000 in the previous quarter and just 70,000 in the second quarter.

This surge reflects events such as an observed 800 percent spike in infections by Crowti ransomware that was noted by Microsoft and discussed in a company blog that found Australia was the fourth-largest victim of that malware.

The McAfee report also singled out the Angler exploit kit, which emerged in the second half of 2014 for its ability to deliver payloads including banking Trojans, rootkits, ransomware, CryptoLocker, and backdoor Trojans. Angler was 2014's most prevalent exploit kit, accounting for 26 percent of reports, and “is the first exploit kit to exploit kit to deliver ransomware by exploiting a vulenrability in Microsoft Silverlight.”

“Because Angler doesn't require technical proficiency to use and because it is accessible through online 'dark' markets,” the report said, “it has become one of the most popular methods to transport malware.”

Given Australia's demonstrated proclivities for ransomware attacks – for example, a 2013 Kaspersky Labs survey found that the country was punching well above its weight in terms of compromises by Cryptolocker ransomware – the resurgence of the malware category could revive the threat to Australian businesses and consumers.

Australia fared well in other measures contained within the report, failing to reach the leaderboard in measures such as countries hosting spam domains, countries hosting phishing domains, and location of servers hosting suspect content (1 percent, compared to 46 percent in North America, 35 percent in Europe and the Middle East and 15 percent in the Asia-Pacific region).

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

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Tags Threat ReportNorth AmericavulenrabilityCryptolockerbackdoor TrojansrootkitsMicrosoft SilverlightransomwareCSO Australiamcafeemobile malwareMicrosoft

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