NQ mobile, a mobile security company, has released a report which claims that 2012 saw a 163% increase in mobile malware and that over 65,000 new pieces of malware were discovered during the year. This kind of news isn’t new and we have heard it all many times before. However when you dig through the fluff and hype there are some real figures which should at least make every Android user aware of the dangers of downloading apps from third parties.
Anti-malware companies have a propensity to exaggerate the number or severity of threats against Android because they think it is good for business. But in reality such scaremongering is just causing Android users to ignore mobile security altogether. Like the boy who cried “Wolf!”, the Android anti-virus companies are crying “malware! malware!” and everyone is getting tired of it. NQ’s latest report says that the number of new pieces of mobile malware went up by 163% and that over 32.8 million Android devices were infected with malware. 32.8 million infected devices is a serious problem.
But… 25.5% of infected mobile devices were in China, followed by India (19.4%), Russia (17.9%) and Saudi Arabia (9.6%). This means that over 70% of infections occurred in countries where piracy and (illegal) third party app stores are popular. In China for example, Google Play doesn’t offer paid-for apps, users can only download free apps. One side effect of this is that to get hold of premium apps users turn to other sources for their downloads. Unfortunately these third party app stores are often full of malware. This situation is improving, slowly. For example, Amazon just recently opened-up its app store to China.
So leaving China and India behind what about the USA or Europe? The NQ report says that 9.8% of infected Android devices were in the USA. A quick bit of maths: 9.8% of 32.8 million is 3.2 million. That is still a serious number. But wait… According to NQ, 65% of malware discovered in 2012 were classified as Potentially Unwanted Programs. PUPs are program which aren’t malicious but could be annoying, for example those with aggressive advertising. So of all the “malware” found, only 45% of it is real malware. More maths: 45% of 3.2 million is 1.4 million. And this is the real number.
What it means is that during 2012 1.4 million Americans fell victim to malware on a mobile device. This is a problem. If each one of those devices sent a single premium rate SMS message the malware authors could have earned over $1 million for their efforts. Not a bad payday for a cyber criminal!
Android malware is a huge problem in places like China and Russia, but so is cyber crime and malware on PCs. It is all related. But America and Europe aren’t immune. The best thing for every Android user is to install a mobile security suite (see our 2013 antivirus apps for Android roundup) and avoid suspect third party download sites. Don’t follow links to download apps that you get from unsolicited SMS messages or from emails. Stay vigilant.