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Android weakness threatens enterprise security

Leading security companies increasingly warning that malware is reaching a critical level on mobile OS; firms urge Google to change approach to signing code on Android Store

Android weakness threatens enterprise security
Google's refusal to address Android's security shortcomings is increasingly threatening enterprise IT security.

Android's future in the enterprise is looking increasingly shaky after several damning reports emerged this month slating the security risk posed to consumers and enterprises by the operating system.

Separate reports from Kaspersky Lab, M86 Security, AV-Test and Juniper Global Threat Centre all warned that the open source approach of the operating system was the critical flaw that had opened it up to an "alarming" increase in malware.

That open source nature was the main reason that increasing numbers of cybercriminals were dumping attempts to hack iOS, as well as reducing the resources focused on discovering weaknesses in Java, according to three of those companies.

According to Juniper, during the period from July to November, Android saw a 472% rise in malware attacks. The mobile security group said that the lack of security controls on the Android Store, as well as the sole requirement to open up a developer's account being a payment of $25, left it open to attack.

It added that the lack of ongoing subscription meant that attacking Android had a low risk, but high return on investment for hackers; hence the reason so many were shifting their focus to the platform.

It warned that Google's refusal to even consider basic checks to ensure that apps contain no malware meant that because: "no one checking to see that your application does what it says, just the world's largest majority of smartphone users skimming past your application's description page with whatever description of the application the developer chooses to include," meant that the search giant was risking destroying consumer and enterprise confidence in Android.

November alone saw an increase of 111% increase on the amount of malware generated during October. October itself saw an increase of 108% on September's figures.

Juniper's investigation found that 55% of all malware released into the Android Store was spyware. The majority of other attacks came in the form of applications that send texts to premium rate numbers.

While the company avoided describing iOS more secure than Android, it did say Apple's extremely proactive approach to screening all software uploaded onto the App Store had prevented malware spreading on the platform.

Another company that has stressed that iOS is not naturally more secure than Android is Kaspersky Lab. Earlier this year, several senior researchers at the company warned that amount of malware infecting jailbroken devices was a sign that the platform was not necessarily more secure.

However, they - as with Juniper - praised Apple's strict approach to App approval, as well as a refusal to allow companies access to root systems (something which Kaspersky Lab admitted meant it wasn't able to offer security software on the platform) had prevented any malware outbreaks.

Its latest report stated that Android had now firmly overtaken every other mobile platform - including Java - to become the prime focus for malware writers. It said that the percentage of malware written for Android stood at 46% of all mobile malware in October 2011, but that it is increasing exponentially, and it expects it to pass the 50% mark before the end of the year.

According to Kaspersky Lab, the percentage of malware written specifically to steal personal data increased by 30% during September. October saw that figure rise by another 34%. It warned that while the vast majority of new malware continued to target data such as contacts, numbers, and GPS coordinates, a small - but worrying - amount were designed to intercept mobile banking services, specifically the one-time passwords banks send to their customers.

That trend was also noted by M86 Security. It describes the rise in malware aimed at mobile banking as "one of the most troubling trends" it has come across. It warned that mobile malware solutions were in their infancy, and that enterprises that took the decision to allow Android-based devices onto their networks need to set strong rules around their use.

Its warning came just days after one of the leading anti-malware testing organisations AV-Test described the majority of Android anti-malware scanners as "near to useless".

Its study found that the two most popular anti-malware solutions - Antivirus Free and GuardX Antivirus - failed to detect even a single virus. Both failed to detect any malware during a manual test where there were 172 pieces to be discovered, or during the installation of ten known infected applications.

The four reports come on the heel of similar reports from McAfee, security firm Lookout, and market research firm Retrevo.

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