Malware on the up for Android handsets

Malware on the up for Android handsetsMakes you mad, doesn't it? You've got a brand spanking new Android phone and yet, there is someone out there, tinkering away with a bit of code, planning to use your device for their means. Even more so now, with the revelation that the number of malware apps for Google's OS has increased by 472% since July!

This is according to Juniper networks, which also claims the bulk of this increase happened between September and October. In other words, bloody recently.

Here's what Juniper's report says: "The majority of malicious applications target communications, location, or other personal identifying information. Of the known Android malware samples, 55%, acts in one way or another as spyware.

"The other major type of attack, which make up 44%, are SMS Trojans, which send SMS messages to premium rate numbers owned by the attacker in the background of a legitimate application, without the person's knowledge. Once these messages are sent, the money is not recoverable, and the owners of these premium rate numbers are generally anonymous."

We're not surprised that there is an increase in malware and spyware on Android if we're honest here. Google's Android OS is open. That's what "open" means - anybody can code an app and publish it to the Market.

Plus, Android devices have soared in popularity with more than half a million new now being activated per day. Quite remarkable when we look back to how new it all seemed exactly three years ago when we pulled our brand new T-Mobile G1 out of the box to cries of "What on earth is that?!"

The openness is what makes Android a great option and a real draw for devs who don't want to face the restrictions of Apple. But there is also a lot to be said for the iOS way of looking at things in this kind of situation because Apple's Big Brother approach does see off this danger for its customers.

What many are calling for here is for Google to get more involved. Whilst not necessarily going full throttle like Cupertino, what the search giant could do is have a proper review policy in place to screen for malicious intent. Though maybe it is erring because that would signify any app that it does allow through is safe - and potentially open Google up to lawsuits (particularly in litigious-happy America) when bad eggs slip through.

In the meantime, there are five things we'd heartily recommend to keep your Android as pure and innocent as the driven snow:

1. Install apps only from the market. Some apps come from other direct sources and Google allows you to install them only if you go into the settings menu and change options to allow installations from other locations. Be very wary of apps that want to bypass the Market. Whilst some will have a good reason, just use your nouse.

2. Look at the reviews. Although it's easy to fake these, if an app has reviews going back more than a few months (and they're mixed rather than all being glowingly in favour), that usually is a good sign you're probably OK.

3. Back up your phone regularly. If you're rooted, use Titanium Pro or something similar. This will create an imprint of your device so if the worst should happen, you can just restore everything from before completely as it was.. settings, preferences and all.

4. Don't install cracked apps. Yes, it may be more of a draw when you can get a version of something for free but it's worth bearing in mind that if somebody in a dingy basement somewhere can tinker away for hours cracking software, they can just as easily add some nasty stuff in there undercover. And frankly, if you're stealing software, you don't really have much of a moral comeback when it all starts to go wrong.

5. Get a bit of extra help. There are lots of virus killers/scanners etc in the Market. Some use more processor/battery power than others but the selection is enormous. For what it's worth, we use Lookout which scans every app as it installs and compares it against a constantly updated directory of bad things to look out for. It also monitors our browsing every time to keep us away from baddies and adds a few other functions like remote locate and wipe if the phone gets lost or stolen (think FindMyiPhone from Apple.) It's premium and costs about £1.99 a month - but there is a free version available too. And for us, £1.99 a month is a small price to pay compared to the alternative scenario!

But above all, use your common sense. Stay safe, peeps!

Read more about: Android

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