More Virulent Smartphone Malware on the Horizon

By Lawrence Walsh  |  Print this article Print

As smartphone platforms become more open to third-party application developers, a new generation of malware writers will follow with worms and viruses, says Kaspersky Lab chief Eugene Kaspersky.

More virulent, stealthy and voluminous malware for smartphones such as the Apple iPhone, BlackBerrys, Google Android and devices running the Microsoft Mobile is coming as these platforms become more open to application developers, says Eugene Kaspersky, the chief executive and founder of anti-virus vendor Kaspersky Lab.

In a meeting at the RSA Conference, Kaspersky says that malware targeting smartphones isn’t a serious problem now, mostly because the platforms are closed and complicated and the devices lack the processing power to support both legitimate applications and malicious code. But, when devices become more powerful and more applications are added, he says it’s a near certainty that smartphone malware will explode.

"My company will have a lot of work protecting mobile phone platforms. The more friendly the platforms become, the more malware will come," Kaspersky says.

Malware targeting mobile devices appeared around 2002, targeting the early Web-enabled phones and peer-to-peer data sharing devices. The level of smartphone malware proliferation is muted compared with the hundreds of thousands of malware samples targeting Windows clients and servers discovered in the last year alone. 

Kaspersky believes the limited number of smartphone malware is more a reflection of the nature of the platform and their operating systems. Smartphones such as BlackBerry and iPhone are relatively closed platforms that have a limited number of applications and a small community of supporting engineers.

What concerns Kaspersky is the necessity of smartphone vendors and operating system publishers to achieve economies of scale: open, user-friendly systems. Just as Microsoft won the operating system wars of the early 1990s by publishing software development kits (SDKs) and application programming interfaces to gain acceptance and market share, smartphone manufacturers will have to become less parochial of their platforms and build communities of engineers.

"If they want to stay in the market, they’ll have to have an open network [for application development]," Kaspersky says.

Building a community of supporting engineers will undoubtedly create a counter group of malware writers who will leverage the more open platforms and breadth of applications to create Trojans, worms and viruses designed to steal valuable assets and information, such as banking credentials.

Apple pioneered the smartphone application development market with its App Store on iTunes, a site that allows third-party developers to create and market their software creations. In recent months, Microsoft, Nokia and Research In Motion (RIM) have announced plans to create similar application stores for their mobile platforms.

In the Channel Insider 2009 Market Pulse Report, solution providers reported increasing demand among their customers for smartphone support services—implementation, maintenance and management.

Lawrence Walsh Lawrence Walsh is editor of Baseline magazine, overseeing print and online editorial content and the strategic direction of the publication. He is also a regular columnist for Ziff Davis Enterprise's Channel Insider. Mr. Walsh is well versed in IT technology and issues, and he is an expert in IT security technologies and policies, managed services, business intelligence software and IT reseller channels. An award-winning journalist, Mr. Walsh has served as editor of CMP Technology's VARBusiness and GovernmentVAR magazines, and TechTarget's Information Security magazine. He has written hundreds of articles, analyses and commentaries on the development of reseller businesses, the IT marketplace and managed services, as well as information security policy, strategy and technology. Prior to his magazine career, Mr. Walsh was a newspaper editor and reporter, having held editorial positions at the Boston Globe, MetroWest Daily News, Brockton Enterprise and Community Newspaper Company.