Android users warned about increased malware attacks

Android Malware

Law enforcement agencies have warned federal, state and local authorities to keep an eye on their use of Android mobile devices as attacks on the phones' operating system increase dramatically.

An unclassified memo circulated nationwide to law enforcement, security and emergency personnel by the Homeland Security Department and the FBI in late July said threats to the Android Operating System (OS) continue to ramp up.

The memo, posted on the Public Intelligence open source website Aug. 23, said the Android OS "continues to be a primary target for malware attacks due to its market share and open source architecture."

Prepared by the DHS Office of Cyber Intelligence and Analysis, the National Protection and Programs Directorate, the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team and the FBI's directorate of Intelligence, the memo noted industry reporting that showed 44 percent of Android users are still using the 2011 "Gingerbread" versions of the OS (2.3.3 through 2.3.7). Those versions, it said, have a number of security vulnerabilities that were fixed in later Android iterations.

"The growing use of mobile devices by federal, state and local authorities makes it more important than ever to keep mobile OS patched and up-to-date," said the memo.

Trojan files delivered via SMS text messages, it said, represent almost half the malicious applications circulating on older Android OS. The Trojan malware can force mobile devices to send text messages to sites that rack up exorbitant charges for the user. It also warned Rootkit malware can secretively log users' keystrokes and passwords, while fake Google play domains can steal users' sensitive data.

The memo said some of the problems could be mitigated using security suites either purchased or downloaded for free. It also recommended using only approved applications and following IT department procedures to update device security.

TrendLabs' 2Q 2013 Security Roundup, released in July, showed malware attacks on Android OS are rising. The number of malicious and high-risk Android apps grew to 718,000 in the second quarter -- up significantly from the 509,000 high-risk apps it noted in the first quarter, according to the study. "In just six months, these apps surged by more than 350,000 -- a number that originally took them three years to reach."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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Reader comments

Wed, Aug 28, 2013

According to the article, this applies to users of much older Android versions who have not updated in recent years. According to research conducted by the Georgia Institute of Technology, it concluded the iPhone and Android are both equally safe (or insecure) in reality. Mobile malware continues to be developed for both Android and iOS but the ecosystem works well to keep devices secure. “Largely, it appears that the mechanisms in place appear to be working,” said Patrick Traynor, Assistant Professor with Georgia Tech’s School of Computer Science. “Even though malware does get into the market, people don’t seem to be downloading those apps.” See their complete Cyber Threat report Android users now get a warning if they attempt to install nefarious apps especially from unknown sources or installation may be blocked to protect user devices and data. In addition, Android 4.3 is the first Android release version to fully include and enable the security enhanced linux (SELinux) support contributed by the SE for Android project. For maximum flexibility , Android enables the the government to create and deploy their mobile Apps through their own store fronts of choice.

Wed, Aug 28, 2013 Beltway Bill

This is fundementally different than Apple's iOS environment -- which is locked-down iOS + single App Store + reviewed & approved aps + known/trusted developer network. For unjailbroke iOS devices, there is no malware.

Wed, Aug 28, 2013 Beltway Bill

No surpirse there. Just like early Windows, Android was designed & deployed for maximum usability by all -- both good and bad guys / malware.

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