Google Inc. (GOOG)’s Android mobile-phone platform faces soaring software attacks and has little control over the applications, according to security firm Kaspersky Lab.
Applications loaded with malicious software are infiltrating the Google operating system at a faster rate than with personal computers at the same stage in development, said Nikolay Grebennikov, chief technology officer for Kaspersky. The company identified 70 different types of malware in March from just two categories in September.
“The growth rate in malware within Android is huge, in the future there will definitely be more,” Grebennikov said in an interview in London. Kaspersky will offer security on Android in the third quarter of this year.
Hacking into mobile-phone software has become increasingly sophisticated, forcing Mountain View, California-based Google to remove malicious applications that were available from its Android Market store last month. The applications, which were remotely disabled, gathered information about mobile devices and could be used to access personal data.
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Company spokesman Ollie Rickman referred back to the Google’s comment in a blog post last month.
“We are adding a number of measures to help prevent additional malicious applications using similar exploits from being distributed through Android Market,” Rich Cannings, an Google engineer who works on Android security, said in the blog post.
Popular and Targeted
Android will run on 38.5 percent of smartphones sold this year, according to market research firm Gartner. The Google software is moving into cheaper hardware and starting to compete with high-volume, low-margin phones made by companies such as Nokia Oyj. (NOK1V)
“Any time a technology becomes adopted and popular, that technology will be targeted by the bad guys,” said Jay Abbott, Director of Threat and Vulnerability at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.
The proliferation of mobile app stores at platforms from companies including Google, Apple Inc. (AAPL), Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), Research in Motion Ltd. (RIM) and Nokia has made the functions and devices harder to secure, said Richard Overill, a senior lecturer in computer science at King’s College, London
“It is a new frontier,” said Overill, who has been researching the industry since 1992. “It’s been an area that the criminal fraternity hasn’t gone into before because they are doing quite nicely thank you in the computer space.”
Google, owner of the world’s most-popular online search engine, offers Android to handset manufacturers for free and allows developers access to some of its code for writing software. Apple, whose iOS software trails Android in smartphone market share, requires every application to be approved before being sold in its online store.
Android’s open model is “a benefit but equally a drawback,” said PwC’s Abbott. “Anyone can develop anything at any time,” he said, adding that the “model makes it a lot easier for people to exploit it.”
Other experts such as Overill say Android’s model may not make it more vulnerable to attack than a closed platform as its community of users can watch out for and report on any evidence of malware to ensure it gets fixed.
Aad van Moorsel, the director of Centre for Cybercrime and Computer Security at Newcastle University, said that closed systems also face threats. “The fact that Microsoft is a closed system in the personal computing space hasn’t stopped it from being attacked,” he said.
Google removed more than 50 applications containing malicious code known as DroidDream last month, according to San Francisco-based mobile security firm Lookout. The code enabled the software to gain a “substantial amount of control in the infected device,” and could help to install additional applications, Lookout said.
Google doesn’t have antivirus protection on the file level within its operating system, Grebennikov said.
“The malware was not like before,” Grebennikov said. Previously mobile attacks were limited to sending text messages to premium numbers hitting the user with high charges, he said.
Kaspersky Lab, Russia’s largest maker of antivirus software, this year sold 20 percent of its shares to private equity group General Atlantic LLC. The Moscow-based company, founded by majority shareholder Eugene Kaspersky, is aiming to become the world’s largest provider of end-user Internet security software.
Google and Apple risk approving applications with hidden malware. “I worry about what gets rubber stamped,” said David Emm, a Kaspersky analyst. “The walled garden is great unless the wolf gets over the wall and runs amok.”
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