Android is the leading smartphone operating system, but it’s not just its ubiquity that makes it a juicy target for hackers. The open Android Market is highly vulnerable to software threats. According to Juniper Networks, malware in the Market has skyrocketed 472 percent since July 2011—although Google refutes those figures.
To help shape up Android’s defenses, some of the leading PC security software companies have released security suites for the OS, complete with virus and malware protection. Plus, Android’s Ice Cream Sandwich OS beefs up security. With an average of 700,000 Android device activations daily, and 3.7 million activated over the Christmas weekend, those improvements can’t come soon enough.
According to Mark Kanok, Symantec product manager, malware developers working hard to develop new types of malicious code. Some of the more dangerous known types of malware are premium dialers. These nasty apps force a device to call or text “premium” numbers, which rack up huge wireless charges.
Another growing threat preys on users who look up trending search terms. Text- and email-based attacks are also on the rise, as are attacks that use a phone’s near field communications chip against it. For now, there are just a few NFC-enabled smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, but malware writers and hackers could wreak havoc with the identities of users who participate in programs such as Google Wallet or who share information via Android Beam.
Beyond not opening links sent to you from strangers, you might consider adding McAfee’s Mobile Security for Android ($29.99 per year), Symantec’s Norton Mobile Security ($29.99 per year), or Lookout Mobile Security ($29.99). Each provides users with antivirus, anti-spyware, anti-fishing protection, as well as backup, remote lock, wipe, and tracking features. Each app is also available as a free version with fewer features.
In Android 4.0, Google will help protect devices by featuring full encryption and by making it harder to install malicious code.
“This is a very important feature for these devices to be considered enterprise-ready,” said Stacy Crook, senior research analyst for mobile enterprise at research firm IDC.
While Ice Cream Sandwich plugs some of Android’s security holes, it will take a long while for the OS to become the most popular flavor. In the meantime, expect mobile security suites to help protect devices running older software, as well as help even the latest Google-powered phones stay one step ahead of the bad guys.