How secure is your Android phone, really? If the statistics released by today by mobile security firm Lookout are to be believed, some smartphone owners are more security conscious than others. According to the company’s estimates, over 1 million American Android users have unwittingly installed adware. (Lookout defines adware as apps that display overly obtrusive advertising, harvest “personally identifiable information,” or “perform unexpected actions” as a result of user interaction.) Even more discouraging, the company says about 6.5 percent of the free applications available in the Google Play store contain adware. Assuming that’s accurate, a simple calculation using Google’s most recent Play store app count reveals that just over 55,000 applications contain harmful code.
Lookout’s statistics provide a detailed look at the percentage of adware contained certain categories of apps available from the Google Play store. Free Personalization applications are the worst offenders: 26 percent have adware of some kind. Social apps fare far better, with only 2 percent of free applications incorporating adware. Free games are somewhere in the middle, with 9 percent containing adware.
The numbers from Lookout are worrisome, but not unexpected. Bitdefender, a mobile security software maker, said in May that adware targeting Android increased by 35 percent in the United States and 61 percent globally. Earlier this week, Juniper Networks released a report that broke down mobile adware’s distribution by platform. Android took the dubious crown, with 92 percent of threats running on the operating system.
In a post on Lookout’s blog, Lookout product manager Jeremy Linden stressed the need for mobile advertising companies to “protect user privacy and excellent user experience.” He suggested unscrupulous ad frameworks that “[capture] personal information” without asking and “[modify] phone settings and desktop” without permission harm the integrity of the smartphone ecosystem. Linden wrote, “People need to trust and feel comfortable on their smartphones and tablets in order to use them!”
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Is that even 1% of American Android users?
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Also, the platform is maturing after massive growth, this will get better rapidly too. I don’t think AdWare is a major Android problem.
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This kind of adware is pretty close to the Java installer on Windows asking you if you want to install the Ask.com toolbar, and millions just click through confirming yes. It’s annoying for those users, but not terribly malicious. Then again, not desirable behavior to emulate.
That said, short of understanding why the app is asking for unnecessary permissions for its stated purpose, the only way to see it uses an ad network library is Ad Network Detector (or similar apps) or a malware detector like Lookout. Google should figure out a way to register all those libraries and declare them during installation for approval, with lots of warnings.
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