Lightning strike more likely than mobile malware

The threat of mobile malware infection is substantially overblown, according to a new report, with a typical user more likely to be hit by lightning than be infected.

According to mobile security vendor Damballa, which monitors about half of all mobile data traffic in the U.S., just 9,688 phones -- out of a total of 151 million -- showed signs of active infection.

That's a rate of 0.0064 percent.

Meanwhile, the lifetime odds of being struck by lightning are 0.008 percent, according to the National Weather Service, or 25 percent higher.

Not only is the infection rate low, but it's also falling.

In 2012, the infection rate was 0.015 percent, more than twice as high as today.

"It's gone down quite a bit since then," said Charles Lever, Damballa's senior scientific researcher. "That was actually a bit of a surprise."

The reason, according to Lever, is that most US smartphone users get their applications from the official app stores. And the stores do a good job at keeping malicious apps out.

Meanwhile, most of the mobile security studies that come out focus on the growing number of malware varieties, not on actual infections, he said.

"Yes, people may be finding more malware samples," he said. "But in the US, we have strong first-party markets for your mobile devices. If you're going to install applications, you're most likely to go to Google Play or the Apple App Store. Both of those are curated, and have kill switches so if apps are installed on user devices they can remove them en masse from both the markets and the devices themselves."

To find out whether devices were infected or not, Damballa looked for traffic between the smartphones and domains that were known to be associated with mobile malware.

That list of sites now includes 32,000 domains -- up from just 3,000 in 2012.

"But even with that 10-fold increase, we didn't see that many devices reaching out to those domains," Lever said.

More devices were reaching out to domains that were known to deliver desktop infections.

"Lots of people read email on a mobile device," Lever explained. "It might have a link to a drive-by download site or some other malicious site but not be targeting mobile specifically."

That could change in the future, he said, if hackers find ways to install malware on smartphones via websites.

For example, there previously was a way for iOS users to jailbreak their devices by visiting a website.

"They were exploiting a vulnerability in how iOS devices handled PDFs," Lever said. "It was a convenience to help people jailbreak their device."

For the most part, however, installing malware onto an iOS device requires physical access.

There is some malware that installs on Android devices via drive-by downloads, such as NotCompatible.

Security company Lookout said NotCompatible has been downloaded more than 4 million times -- but actual infection rates might be lower, since there's a confirmation step required in order to actually install it.

Damballa's Lever added that another infection pathway for Android devices was the app update mechanism.

"Certain Android applications weren't using certain security parameters correctly," he said.

A hacker could then hijack that mechanism so that, say, a user would think he was downloading an update to his anti-virus and get malware instead.

Lever added that of the malware that is commonly found on smartphones, much of it falls into the gray area between adware and malware.

"You get aggressive ads, but nothing particularly harmful," he said.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags RSA 2015securitylegalDamballaNational Weather Servicemalwarecybercrime

More about AppleGoogle

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Maria Korolov

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