Earlier this year, we saw a report that said there was a 163% rise in the number of malware-infected Android devices in 2012. As shocking as that figure might be, we have a new report now that says the problem has blown up even further.

According to a recently published report[1] from networking vendor Juniper Networks, the number of mobile threats grew an astonishing 614% from March 2012 to March 2013. This equates to a grand total of 276,259 malicious samples, according to research done by the company’s Mobile Threat Center or MTC.

What exactly constitutes such a large amount of mobile threats? It is said that the majority of these mobile threats — 77% of the total — come in the form of money-siphoning applications that either force users to send SMS messages to so-called premium-rate numbers or somehow manage to perform the sending of SMS messages all on their own.

They go virtually undetected as they are normally bundled with pirated apps and appear as normal applications. Typically, these malicious apps can net their creators an average profit of about $10 per user, according to Juniper Networks.

As it is currently the most popular mobile device platform in the world, it’s easy to see why Android would be targeted with such malicious activities. But perhaps you’re wondering, is there anything that can be done to combat this problem?

Indeed, there is. In Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, a new safety feature was introduced in order to stop wayward SMS messages dead in their tracks. But that in itself is a huge problem: Android 4.2, the latest version of the Google mobile operating system, is only available on a tiny fraction of all Android-powered devices out on the market. In fact, many of today’s newer devices don’t even ship with it. So the relevant safety features, as useful as they might be, becomes pretty much useless.

Even worse, the money-making malware mentioned above represents only one type of mobile threat on Android. Android spyware is also present, accounting for 19% of the total malicious samples collected in the above-mentioned research. These could potentially put a user’s privacy at risk, collecting sensitive data and all kinds of information then relaying them to the spyware’s creator.

Trojan apps have also been discovered to be part of the overall Android ecosystem. Although they form a very small part of the entire body of mobile threats on Android right now, it is possible for them to become more widespread in the future. If the fix really only lies in having the latest version of Android installed on a device, and the issue of fragmentation — not to mention the slow software updates from carriers and OEMs — persists, that’s almost a certainty.

What do you think could be done to finally overcome these kinds of problems? Will it be the end of Android as we know it? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments.

[1] Juniper Networks Whitepaper (Warning: PDF)

David Gonzales
David is a mobile computer geek who firmly believes that in order to stay healthy, one needs to eat daily doses of gadgets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Join him as he indulges his passion for technology and fascination with all things Android.