Mobile Viruses the risk keeps growing (Part 1)

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Data theft, expensive long-distance calls, and even spying: Virus writers are going mobile and targeting smartphones. How safe you are depends not just on your phone, but also on you.

Description: Mobile Viruses the risk keeps growing

Mobile malware writers celebrated their first huge success in March this year: security experts found more than 50 unsafe apps in the Android market, which had infected about 200,000 devices within a few days. The compromised apps – system tools, games and porn applications – sent personal data like the devices’ unique identification number (IMEI/IMSI) to servers in Russia and China.

Attackers have already accessed a lot more than just telephone numbers. The malware known as AndroidOS/Fakeplayer.A, automatically sends out premium rate SMS messages, running up your bill and earning the attackers a commission. Other examples, like the Trojan Android/Adrd.A and the iPhone worm iKee.B, secretly connect your system to so-called command and control servers, turning it into one of the zombies in a huge botnet.

Your device then starts sending spam without your knowledge, is involved in DDoS attacks on websites, and installs other malware at the attacker’s whim. Secondary attacks can be in the form of keyloggers which capture every input. ZeuS even spies on PIN codes during mobile online banking.

For users in countries with lower smartphone penetration, these malware have luckily not caused much damage – so far.

However this should not give anyone a false sense of security: many of the mobile malware examples were not really dangerous – they have been serving as trial runs for the creation of a much more dangerous criminal infrastructure that is still being set up.

Android is the current preferred target for hackers. With a market share of more than 30 percent, it has definitely left all its competitors behind. BlackBerry, with their low market share, are quite unattractive for hackers. Symbian is hardly used any longer in modern smartphones and is losing favor too. On the other hand, Apple’s iOS is becoming more risky thanks to the discovery of several security loopholes, most notably a series of vulnerabilities in the PDF reader of the Safari browser, using which attackers can access your device in no time. To exploit this, attackers need to divert you to a specially doctored web page. Such pages can be used to jailbreak your device, but they can also load malware unnoticed. Then again, Apple quickly rectifies most such problems that crop up: the described loophole was closed with the release of iOS 4.3.4.

Description: Sneaky tactics: Android Trojans try to pass themselves off as normal apps, but they tend to ask for noticeably more access rights. Don’t just blindly approve anything that you download!

Sneaky tactics: Android Trojans try to pass themselves off as normal apps, but they tend to ask for noticeably more access rights. Don’t just blindly approve anything that you download!

It is generally harder for malware writers to penetrate iOS or Android because Google and Apple have efficient methods of protection. These include digital certificates, limited authorizations, and isolation of apps from the kernel as well as from other apps. Malware has only limited access to critical parts of the operating system. The approaches of both the companies are quite similar, though their ways of implementation are rather different. The closed ecosystem of the iOS is often criticized, but this makes it difficult to hack. The digital certificates that Apple signs apps with are very important for this to work. They ensure the authenticity and legitimacy of apps, which are supposed to be obtained only from the official App Store. Registration for the iOS Developer Program costs about 100 US dollars, and is mandatory for releasing an app. Because Apple checks all submitted applications for malicious code before releasing them, the chance of a rogue app hitting mainstream users is miniscule. Considering the number of new applications constantly being released, it is not really clear how comprehensively Apple analyses all of them. Nevertheless, should a malicious app still pass the test, Apple is able to delete it remotely, effectively wiping it from all infected devices.

That’s how (un)safe mobile systems are:





Protection function



Apple iOS


Google Android

Verification of app

How safe are the apps and software sources?


Isolation of apps

How easily can malware infiltrate the system?

Access rights of apps

How effective is the protection against data theft?

File encryption

How well are the storage areas protected?

Verdict: iOS is safer because of the clean App Store, Android isolates running apps well, but is also more open and therefore vulnerable than the iOS.

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