Mobile Malware Proliferates as Smartphone Market Booms

By Ericka Chickowski  |  Print this article Print

Researchers from McAfee Labs say the rapid proliferation of malware has caused them to increase their estimate of the number of bugs roaming in the wild to 75 million.

According to a new report out last week from McAfee Labs, the rapid proliferation of malware has caused researchers to bump up their estimates for cumulative the number of unique samples to float around the Internet by the end of 2011. In its McAfee Threats Report: Third Quarter 2011, the firm reported that its increasing its estimated malware threat count from 70 million to 75 million.

Leading the growth curve this quarter was mobile malware, which continues to pick up steam as smartphone adoption skyrockets, particularly among Android devices.

"This has been a very steady quarter in terms of threats, as both general and mobile malware are more prevalent than ever," said Vincent Weafer, senior vice president of McAfee Labs. "So far this year, we've seen many interesting yet challenging trends that are affecting the threat landscape, including heightened levels of sophistication and high-profile hacktivist attacks."

The report found that parasitic malware exploits and exploit scripts in general are growing in favor with hackers over threats like downloaders. Typically, these parasitic viruses and other file infectors operate in memory and infect executables so that they're started up each time the executable is launched. According to the report, three of the top five global threats in third quarter were parasitic or file-infector classes of malware, behind only malicious iframes and malicious window shortcut files.

As for hacktivists, McAfee researchers said that attacks were primarily perpetrated by members of the rogue group Anonymous in third quarter, hitting organizations such as Arizona Fraternal Order of Police, Booz Allen Hamilton, Bay Area Rapid Transit, Austrian Police and Goldman Sachs.

"These attacks were numerous but also confusing because in many cases their goals were unclear," the report said. "At the same time, on the same IRC channel, some called for increased protests against PayPal, while others suggested opening PayPal accounts to receive donations again. Some called for attacks on Facebook, while others created pages to promote their opinions and operations."

On the malicious messaging front, McAfee delivered word of a good news-maybe worse news scenario. Global spam levels continued to decline last quarter and reached 2007 levels, but researchers found that targeted spearphishing is stronger than ever.

"So, very much like malware, the noise tells us spam levels have dropped, yet the signal we need to hear is that the bad guys have changed their tactics," the report said. "They are protecting their business models and are doing so with a sophistication that creates a more dangerous threat than before."