Smartphone infections: Small numbers, but growing

Written by New York Times | Updated: Oct 6 2014, 17:57pm hrs
Mobile securityA recent report by the security company McAfee said that there was a 197% increase in mobile malware from 2012 to 2013.
The warning was dire: A small security company revealed a flaw in millions of smartphones that could allow dangerous software to masquerade as a legitimate app and seize control of a phone. The threat was a big conversation topic at this years Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas. But after that, we didnt hear much more about it.

Perhaps that should not be surprising. For some time, computer security companies have been on the lookout for apps meant to do harm to smartphones. But for all the concern, so-called mobile malware has not had much of an impact on regular people.

A recent report by the security company McAfee said that there was a 197% increase in mobile malware from 2012 to 2013. The actual number of phones hit by mobile malware, however, is tiny. McAfee said one of the largest mobile infections it was tracking recentlya kind of malware that can lock your phone and all the data on it and hold it for ransomhad infected 20,000 to 40,000 mobile users in the US.

By comparison, the recent hack of Home Depots computer network affected 56 million cardholders. So is mobile malware a threat Sure. But your threat level depends on who you are. For example, it was reported last week that the Chinese government could be using mobile malware to plant malicious apps on the phones of protesters in Hong Kong.

But if youre not a celebrity or a protester, and youre not carrying corporate or government secrets on your device, it is certainly not your biggest computer security problem. And if you practice basic security hygiene on your mobile phone good passwords, downloading apps from reputable sources and treating email on a phone with the same caution as on a computerit is easily avoided.

Phones can get infected when someone accidentally downloads a malicious app. Clicking some ads can also start downloads of malware, and hackers can even pretend to be a public Wi-Fi hot spot to steal personal data. Googles popular

Android operating system is the overwhelming target of all these mobile hacking attempts. But Google argues that actual infections are rare, especially in the United States and Europe where most

Android phones are running official versions of the operating system and the Google Play or Amazon App Store.

Google, like Apple, Microsoft and BlackBerry, works to verify the apps it allows into the Google Play store and even the alternative Amazon App Store. Malicious apps can sometimes find a way in, but its unusual. Google says most of the infections it sees are in Russia and Vietnam, and they come through unauthorised app stores that arent vetted by either Google or mobile phone operators.

Security companies like McAfee maintain that mobile malware is on the rise and that, while it might not be a major problem now, its a rising tide. We think the threat is real; we think its a growing threat, said Gary Davis, McAfees chief consumer security evangelist. We think theres a laissez-faire attitude with consumers not giving it the same kind of attention they give other threats.