Mobile users 'more likely to be struck by lightning' than infected by malware

Damballa sifted 50 percent of US traffic and found miniscule volume of most serious malware

Security firm Damballa published research this week suggesting that the average US user is more likely to be struck by lightning during their lifetime as they are to be infected by the most serious mobile malware in a particular year.

A fortnight ago Verizon reported being unable to find much malware on the devices of its millions of US users and Damballa's figures are even more emphatic if less detailed.

Using a dataset made up from monitoring half of all US mobile network traffic, the firm said that in the fourth quarter of 2014 it had spotted only 9,688 devices contacting malware domains out of a population of 151 million devices, a detection rate of 0.0064 percent.

The total number of domains contacted by this user base was 2,762,453.

This compared to the odds from the US Weather Service that assesses the lifetime risk of being hit by lightning as 0.01 percent, Damballla said.

"This research shows that mobile malware in the Unites States is very much like Ebola - harmful, but greatly over exaggerated, and contained to a limited percentage of the population that are engaging in behaviour that puts them at risk for infection," said Damballa scientific researcher, Charles Lever.

"Ask yourself, 'How many of you have been infected by mobile malware? How many of you know someone infected by mobile malware?'"

One question is whether Damballa is seeing all the mobile malware on these devices. Detecting it using this methodology requires identifying malicious domains accurately and it's possible some are not yet in the database.

If a domain isn't classified as malicious, command and control or traaffic sent via it won't be picked up either. There's also the issue as to what counts as 'malware'. Some security firms count almost anything, including spyware and adware, which is not included in Damballa's definition. That seems reasonable - many spy and adware programs are willingly installed by the user in return for being able to use a mobile app for free.

On the other hand, mobile malware can be lower-level than PC equivalents and still represent a hazard, for example apps that run up SMS toll fraud. Because many apps can make in-program charges, outwardly the app might look more harmless than it is.

"Mobile operators and platforms have invested significant resources in preventing malicious applications from being installed, especially in North America. For example, iOS developers must submit an application for approval before their app is available on iTunes.

"And Google has developed 'Bouncer,' a system that scans submitted apps for evidence of malware.

By staying within vendor app stores users greatly minimised their chances of picking up the nastiest malware, in the case of Apple to almost zero.

The lightning analogy strike is perhaps slightly misleading, comparing lifetime risk with the risk in a single year. The point remains that mobile malware is not as common as some have claimed it is, at least in the US.

Often estimates are based on samples found circulating rather than actual infections, which is not the same thing. Both Damballa and Verizon measured what they had found on real devices.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags securityDamballamobile

More about AppleGoogleVerizon

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by John E Dunn

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