It is a “post-PC” world characterized by pervasive mobility and a range of smart devices that extend beyond the Windows machine paradigm. And for that reason, Trend Micro is warning in its 2012 Annual Security Roundup that the signs very clearly point to the biggest growth area for cyber-criminals like in the world beyond the desktop environment.
The study found that 2012 ended with 350,000 threats for Android devices – a sliver of traditional PC threats. However, consider this: the malware growth ratio reached 14 to 3 for Android versus PC, and it only took Android three years to achieve the equivalent volume that PC threats achieved within 14 years.
“For Android, it is no longer a case of directly installing malicious apps in smartphones,” researchers said. “Now, URLs are able to either wipe data from phones or take over devices. Smartphones are now facing the same kinds of threats previously seen on their PC cousins, all in roughly three years.”
Android, put simply, is a victim of its own success. “This explosive malware growth mirrors the growth of the Android OS itself,” Trend Micro said. “IDC estimates that as many as three-fourths of all smartphones shipped in the third quarter ran the Android OS. Since cyber criminals go after the most commonly used OS, Android has attracted the bulk of cybercriminal attention on mobile platforms to date.”
Two major mobile malware types dominated 2012. First, premium service abusers, which subscribe users to various “services” that add to their bills, were a top vector. And secondly, high-risk apps, which violate user privacy by acquiring sensitive data without asking for explicit consent, were in abundance.
“Android is well on its way to becoming the Windows of the mobile space,” Trend Micro concluded. “The popularity of Windows means that it has faced the lion’s share of desktop threats for years. Similarly, the large Android market was the target of most mobile threats, but their rate of volume growth and complexity swelled at a much faster pace compared with PC malware.”
The report also found that in 2012, Java supplanted pure Windows-based threats in the attackers' crosshairs leading, among other things, to the first widespread attack against the Mac, the firm said.
Also, social media platforms continued to grow as areas of concern with attackers targeting them more, users putting themselves at risk by oversharing on them, and their legitimate services being co-opted to support cybercriminal activities.
Meanwhile, attackers adopted more professional software development practices rather than introducing new attacks. The Blackhole Exploit Kit, automatic transfer systems (ATSs) and ransomware were all refined and improved with new features in ways that Trend Micro noted “would make any commercial software vendor proud.”