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Lookout’s 2014 Mobile Threat Report – Just How Safe Are We?

January 15, 2015 - Written By Cory McNutt

Thieves and hackers always seem to gravitate to where they think they can do the most damage – some just want to cause havoc while others are in it for the money and I have no love for either group. The ones that are in it for the money, I can at least understand their goal, but the ones in it just to cause trouble I have no tolerance for those bums. The growth of wireless mobile has been fast and furious over the past few years and once we all started to get smartphones and reaching out on the internet to the outside world, the hackers really woke up. We now access our bank accounts, pay our bills, buy merchandise online and even pay for our Starbucks coffee with an app and all of these transactions involve MONEY. Where there is money, there are bank account numbers, credit card numbers and passwords – everything a hacker is looking for.

Lookout has just released their report entitled ‘2014 Mobile Threat Report,’ and there were many interesting conclusions and trends. Lookout analyzed security detections from its database of more than 60 million global users and the major threats are broken down into three categories – malware, chargeware and adware. The report also shows that many of the threats are by region, affecting only certain areas, while there is an emergence of new mobile threat tactics, such as ransomware, as well as the continued increase in sophistication. In addition, a more powerful variant of NotCompatible – a sophisticated mobile threat with layers of self-defense mechanisms that can evade detection and countermeasures – increased in the US and Western Europe.

Before we talk about the highlights of this year’s report, let’s go through the three categories of mobile threats. Malware are apps that can wreak havoc on the users in several ways and is an umbrella term used to refer to a variety of forms of hostile or intrusive software. These include computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, ransomware, spyware and other malicious programs. It can be introduced in the form of executable code, scripts, active content, and other software.

Next we have the mobile threat called Chargeware – an app used to corrupt desktop computers and mobile devices with the purpose of manipulating the user into agreeing to unclear terms for fees and charges. An additional feature makes it deliberately difficult to unsubscribe, so that charges continue for as long as possible. Chargeware is often associated with internet pornography.

Finally, we have Adware – advertising-supported software, is any software package that automatically serves up advertisements in order to generate revenue for its author. They generally collect excessive personal data beyond that of standard advertising practices.

Some of the highlights include the fact that in the US, malware grew an incredible 75-percent in 2014 when compared to 2013’s levels. This high level of increase was brought on by malware that can hold the user ‘hostage’ in exchange for payments, much as an in-app purchase does.  The device-for-ransom scheme grew globally in 2014, and is a type of malware that will lock the user out of their device and then offer a pay-to-unlock-your-device ploy. Popular ransomware such as ScareMeNot and ScarePakage finished in the top five most-prevalent mobile threats in the US, UK and Germany.

Another observance is that the Mobile threats are getting more sophisticated – as mobile operators and platforms keep coming up with more advanced defenses, the perpetrators naturally have to work on newer and tougher malware. Adware’s presence fell dramatically in 2014 – what was once the crown jewel of mobile threats is now surpassed by other threats such as chargeware. They believe this is mostly due to Google’s crackdown on adware during late 2013 as well as their continued policing of the Play Store.

Lastly, changeware prevalence fell in the UK and France, but grew tremendously in Germany. In 2014 changeware continues to vary greatly by regions with encounters much higher in Western Europe than in the US. Take a look at the map below that shows some new malware detected during 2014, the regions most affected and a description of each.

Lookout Worldwide 2014 Threats 1

Lookout Worldwide 2014 Threats 2

In the chart below, lookout specifically looks at the US, although the report has several countries listed. Lookout says “In the U.S. ransomware such as ScarePakage, ScareMeNot, ColdBrother, and Koler dominated the mobile threat list in 2014 and largely drove the 75% increase in malware encounter rates.” Ransomware hit millions of users who paid out lots of money to unlock their devices. When it comes to non-ransomware, the top mobile threat in the US in 2014 was the trojan NotCompatible, which allow your phone to be used as a proxy by a third-party – this type of malware is introduced by side loading apps.

Lookout US Stats 1a Lookout US Stats 2In 2014 the new security trend shows a surge in more sophisticated malware as a direct result of the more sophisticated countermeasures to prevent the initial attacks. This problem will continue because the hackers will not give up – the rewards of ‘winning’ are just too great. Google’s 2013 crackdown on malware, their vigilance in protecting the Play Store apps and their continued upgrading of security within their Android operating system has really helped to cut down on some attacks. This is not to say that iOS is more secure than Android OS, only that over 80-percent of the world uses Android and the hackers will go where the numbers are and they can make the most money.

Lookout points out that when we are able to prevent one form of malware, it is like a “double-edged sword.” We have lowered or eliminated one risk, but a much more sophisticated piece of malware generally surfaces to take its place, often making even more vicious and costly attacks on our mobile devices. They tell us, as consumers, we can do our part by installing apps only from trusted sources, such as the Google Play Store, and of course, using advanced mobile security software solutions, such as Lookout.

Please hook up with us on our Google+ Page and let us know if you have had any malware issues on your Android device and if you run any security software on your device and which one… as always, we would love to hear from you.