Malware makers 'tailor' Android threats geographically

Flappy Bird screen shot Some malware makers capitalised on the demise of Flappy Bird and produced booby-trapped copies

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Cyber thieves who target Android phones are getting more sophisticated, suggests a report.

Malware makers are tailoring their creations to make the most of conditions in each territory, said the report by mobile security firm Lookout.

In some places such as Russia, Android users were far more likely to encounter malicious code, it said.

The report comes as analysis of apps on Google's Play store shows a steep rise in the number of malicious programs.

"When it comes to mobile malware, everything is now regionalised," said Marc Rogers, Lookout's principal security researcher.

Gone were the days when the hi-tech thieves spammed their creations out to everyone, he said. Now malware varied by region as it was adapted to the different conditions in those places.

'Hostile' environment

In Europe, wider use of security software on smartphones and action by industry groups against some types of fraudulent activity had forced a reaction from the malware makers.

"Most of Europe is now a hostile environment for premium-rate malware," said Mr Rogers. "You can do it, but it is very difficult to monetise."

Instead, he said, Europe was seeing a rise in so-called chargeware that tries to trick people into paying for a service or app. Pornographic apps were the biggest users of this tactic, he said.

Similarly, the US had seen less use of premium-rate scams in favour of apps that steal data, such as login information for online banking systems.

However, Mr Rogers said premium-rate malware was still very prevalent in Russia where many people got their apps from unofficial sites rather than Google's Play store, putting the country ahead of the world in terms of the percentage of Android users who were likely to encounter malicious apps of all sorts, he said.

The "encounter rate" for the average Russian Android user was 68%, he said. By contrast, encounter rates in the US and Europe were about 4%.

Lookout's report, based on stats using feedback from its 50 million users, comes as another security company, RiskIQ, said it had seen a huge rise in the number of malicious programs appearing on Google's Play store.

In 2011 about 10,000 of the 400,000 apps on the Play store were malicious in one way or another. In 2013 the total number of apps hit one million and RiskIQ said 42,000 of these could be classed as malicious.

Apps that helped people personalise their phone were the most likely to be malicious, said RiskIQ.

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