Android's enterprise future hangs in the balance after malware attacks

Open OS approach may be doing more harm than good claims expert; 260,000 devices infected in four hours

Tags: Google IncorporatedKaspersky Lab
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Android's enterprise future hangs in the balance after malware attacks CIOs may be reconsidering Android deployments in the enterprise after a major malware attack on the mobile OS. (Getty Images/AFP)
By  Ben Furfie Published  April 4, 2011

Google and its partners have been dealt another serious blow in their attempt to convince enterprises to adopt Android-based devices over rival Apple's iPad after a number of serious vulnerabilities were exposed by leading security firms.

Android suffered two separate major attacks during March, with experts warning that this is only the tip of the iceberg for Google's operating system. According to Symantec, which discovered one of the attacks, as many as 200,000 devices may have been compromised in the space of four days.

The other attack saw more than 50 malware-ladened applications hosted on the official Android store. Many were genuine applications that had been republished on the Android store, albeit with the addition of malware. This attack was only discovered when a user saw an application they knew being published by a company that wasn't the original developer.

According to Denis Maslennikov, senior malware analyst and mobile research group manager at Kaspersky Lab, Android has always been at an increased risk of malware compared to the other platforms due to the way it is designed. "The first malware that successfully attacked Android in the open was a Russian developed one that sent premium SMSs," he said. "That was done less than two years after the first Android phone launched in 2008.

"The real problem with Android is that you don't need to ‘root' it to be able to install programmes from a third party resource.

"While Google and its partners argue that being so open is one of the things that make Android superior to Apple's closed and restricted operating system, the reality is that in four years on the market, we're still to see a single piece of malware on an iOS device that hasn't been jailbroken," he added.

"The fact is, Apple's method is working, and Google's isn't."

In a statement issued by Google, the company said that it has removed the malicious code and sent out a security update to devices that had not been updated to Android version 2.2.2 or above. According to Google, devices running the newer versions of the software weren't affected by the exploit.

However, according to Maslennikov, Android's other major Achilles Heel is that it allows operators to heavily customise the software they put onto their phones. This heavy customisation makes it expensive and time consuming to update the devices, with some devices being made to wait months to receive the security updates, which leaves them open to attacks such as this.

"As Android becomes more and more popular - on phones, as well as tablets - then the amount of malware and other malicious software will only increase," added Maslennikov.

"The only reason we haven't seen a huge amount of mobile phone malware is because there is no leader in the mobile OS market; there's no one platform for the criminals to target all of their effort and resources at."

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