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Game-changer: Android malware moves beyond apps

Photo credit: 1000 Words/Shutterstock.com
Photo credit: 1000 Words/Shutterstock.com

According to F-Secure Labs' latest Mobile Threat Report, Q1 saw Android threat distribution reach outside of apps for the first time, via email spam, the first targeted Android attacks and the first Android advanced fee-fraud scam. Additionally, examples of increased commoditization of Android malware surfaced.

"I'll put it this way: Until now, I haven't worried about my mother with her Android because she's not into apps,” said Sean Sullivan, security advisor at F-Secure Labs, in announcing the report. “Now I have reason to worry because with cases like Stels, Android malware is also being distributed via spam, and my mother checks her email from her phone."

The Android trojan known as Stels has begun distributing via fake US Internal Revenue Service-themed emails, using an Android crimeware kit to steal sensitive information from the device, and monetizing itself by making calls to premium numbers. This type of mobile malware commoditization "could be a game changer," according to Sullivan.

Q1 also saw the first targeted attacks in the mobile space. Tibetan human rights activists were targeted with emails that contained an Android-malware-infected attachment, and a so-called "coupon app" for a popular coffee chain steals information from phones with South Korean country codes.

Mobile devices are being targeted in India, too, where the first Android advanced fee fraud surfaced. A fake "job offer" Android app in India informs that the user is being considered for a position at TATA Group, an Indian multinational company. To arrange the interview, the app asks for a refundable security deposit.

Apple-heads can rejoice though: while the number of new mobile threat families and variants continued to rise in the quarter (by 49% from the quarter before), none of them relate to the iPhone or iPad. The number of families rose from 100 to 149, and F-Secure said that Android accounted for 136, or 91.3% of these. The other 13 (8.7%) were for the Symbian mobile operating system.

Overall, the report shows increasing rates of malware development as well: the Q1 2013 numbers are more than double that of a year ago, when 61 new families and variants were discovered.