Mobile phones running on Google's Android operating system are experiencing a "malware epidemic," with the amount of malicious software having risen nearly fivefold since July, according to a post by the security research division of Juniper Networks.
More than half of the smartphones sold worldwide in the third quarter of the year use Android software, the research firm Gartner said this week. And as the platform grows, so do its malware woes. Cybersecurity firm McAfee reported in August that Android had become the number-one target for malicious software.
October and November are expected to see the fastest growth of malware in the history of the Android operating system, according to the post by Juniper Global Threat Center. This comes after a fourfold increase in Android malware from 2009 to the summer of 2010, the company said. By Juniper's count, that means Android malware has increased a stunning 427% from July 2011 to November 10, 2011.
Juniper said hackers have become more sophisticated in the malware they create for Android, writing malicious code that allows them to take control of the phone, spy on victims and send premium-rate text messages - which can cost $2 to $3 each - from a victim’s phone to the hacker, who collects the money.
Juniper said malware on Android devices has become widespread because Google’s method for policing its mobile app store is less stringent than Apple’s system for keeping malware out of its mobile app store.
"There is still no upfront review process in the official Android Market that offers even the hint of a challenge to malware writers that their investment in coding malware will be for naught," the report said.
Malicious applications in the Android market can be removed after the fact if someone discovers it and reports it, Juniper said.
"But how many unsuspecting people are going to download it before it is identified as malicious and removed?" the post said. "This is precisely what is playing out in the mind of mobile malware developers today."
A recent report by the malware testers at AV-Test.org found that most free Android malware scanners did a poor job of detecting malicious software. "[T]he circulation of obviously near to useless security apps endangers those, who trust them and install apps from 3rd party app markets without further suspiciousness," read AV-Test's report, according to ZDNET.
Check out Juniper's infographic (below), illustrating the exponential growth of Android malware.
CLARIFICATION:A previous version of this article described Juniper Networks as a security company. Juniper is a manufacturer of network systems. The blog post was by the Juniper Global Threat Center, which is the mobile security research division of Juniper Networks.