A Look at the Growth of Mobile Malware

Computer hacking has long been a big issue in society. In the 1990s, most of these early viruses were often harmless, but in today's world have become far more complex and malicious as tech continues to grow and evolve. Especially now that online shopping has become the norm, along with Internet banking.

Mobile malware is one of the more recent ways for cybercriminals to try and cash in by exploiting vulnerabilities. Over time society has seen this dark element of the web exploit email, instant messaging, social media networks, business databases, to name a few. While the security industry actively tries to keep up on top of these types of threats, this has not come without some challenges.

There is a huge illicit market in digital information and, as evidenced by the many massive data breaches in recent years, it is a growing issue. Add mobile to the mix and it is not surprising to find that this too will likely become problematic in years to come.

Personal Health Apps for SmartphonesCredit: IntelFreePress Creative Commons-Attribution https://www.flickr.com/photos/54450095@N05/7897620020

Increased Use of Mobile

Mobile use has exploded in recent years. In 2013 Cisco reported that global mobile data traffic grew 70 percent over 2012. In February 2014 it was reported this number increased to 81 percent.Over the past few years, it has also been consistently predicted by various sectors in the tech industry that the number of mobile connected devices would continue to grow, eventually reaching the point where gadgets would outnumber the world's population.

In 2014 we did reach the point where there are more mobile gadgets than people on Earth.2 With this steady growth of mobile, it means extra opportunities for cybercriminals.

Growth of Mobile Malware

While those figures detailing the level of mobile growth are perhaps shocking, there is another factor to think about as the number of gadgets and people using them increase. Malware.

With the considerable growth of mobile, "ordinary" (desktop and laptop) malware will likely be complemented with a surge of mobile malware as cybercriminals keep up with the latest technology, if not one step ahead.

Mobile malware issues have been steadily on the rise for a couple of years now. In late 2011, it was reported the problem with mobile infections were on the uptick. At that time, Android was the mobile operating system seeing the most increases. This trend continued over the next several years. In 2013, a white paper published by ESET, the growth of mobile malware for mobile devices, in particular running Google's Android OS, during 2012 was "staggering". The company cited a shocking 1,700 percent increase and, no, that whopper-sized increase in percentage is not a typo. 3 In 2014 the attacks on Android continue to dominate mobile infections. Dark Reading (via Alcatel-Lucent's Kindsight Security Labs) reported in Sept. 2014 that 15 million mobile gadgets became infected with malware, with 60 percent of the infected running Google's Android OS.4

As the most popular mobile OS, pretty much dominating Apple's iOS in 2014 in market share5, this is not surprising. Historically, hackers have tended to target the largest tech markets in order to gain the most lucrative payoff through illicit means. 

In recent years, industry forecasts showed the growth pace of mobile malware would become even greater. In 2013, risks were generally divided into three groups: Information theft, Botnets and SMS trojans.  In 2014 primary threats added SMSTrackers, GPS locations and Android browser histories, to name a few.

Instagram and other Social Media AppsCredit: Image Credit: Jason A. Howie at Flickr/Creative Commons-Attribution https://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonahowie/7910370882/

Preventative Measures

With mobile malware steadily on the rise, some anti-virus apps may help mitigate potential infections. It is important for mobile users to do their homework and keep on top of the latest threats. This is especially true as more and more people turn to their mobile gadgets to do banking and other actions involving sensitive information.  Preventative measures to avoid infection include:

  • Installing mobile anti-virus software
  • Limit apps to the necessities. Always use trusted sources to download apps.
  • Beware of "cloned" apps. Often malware makers will create an app designed to mimic a reputable one, but loads it with malware.
  • Use secured Wi-Fi connections. There are a number of unprotected and even rogue hot spots out there.
  • Educate yourself about "jailbreaking". This can impact a device's security protection built in by the manufacturer.
  • Keep mobile OS software up to date.
  • Use encryption and passwords. Increasingly biometrics are likely to become more used as an alternative to passwords.

Additionally, it is important not to be complacent where smartphones are concerned. Experts indicate many people tend to look at a smartphone as an ordinary phone,  but considering the amount (and often sensitivity) of data that filters through these devices, it is important to remember to secure these devices. Basically, these days mobile gadgets are mini-computers and should be protected as such.

Cybercriminals are doing many of the same things they have done with conventional computers, however, now they are also stealing messages, monitoring phone calls and even listening in on a gadget's microphone. With the ability to monitor actual conversations, any number of ways to exploit mobile can be gained.

Thief opening a windowCredit: Eastlake Times Flickr/Creative Commons License 2.0

Malware on portable devices is a problem that is probably not going to go away.


Overall,  some suggest the problem of mobile infections are small at this time in the larger picture, however, it seems unlikely the problem is going to go away. TechNewsWorld reported in Aug. 2014 subscriptions to smartphones is anticipated to rise to 4.5 billion by 2018. 9

At this time with the exponential growth of mobile use, it seems highly likely the problems associated with mobile malware is not going to disappear anytime soon. As 2013 came to a close, most of this type of malware is found in Russia and China, but European and U.S. users ere not immune to infections.10 If anything, widespread infections are more probable as our society becomes increasingly fascinated and engrossed with "connectivity". It should be no surprise this issue will only continue to grow as time passes and smartphone (and other devices) adoption increases.

These days it is intriguing to see just what types of gadgets can be hacked; some of them might surprise you.

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