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Android-based malware grew by 35% last quarter, the highest growth rate since early 2012.

The date is from security vendor McAfee Labs' quarterly threat report, which says the rebound in the Android malware growth a rate was marked by the continued proliferation of SMS-stealing banking malware, fraudulent dating and entertainment apps, ‘weaponised’ legitimate apps and malicious apps posing as useful tools.

McAfee Labs registered twice as many new ransomware samples as in the first quarter of 2012, raising the 2013 ransomware count higher than the total found in all previous periods combined. The second quarter also saw a 16% in suspicious URLs, a 50% increase in digitally-signed malware samples, and notable events in the cyber-attack and espionage areas, including multiple attacks on the global Bitcoin infrastructure and revelations around the Operation Troy network targeting U.S. and South Korean military assets.

McAfee Labs researchers identified a set of common mobile strategies employed by cybercriminals to extract money and confidential information from victims:

Banking malware: Many banks implementing two-factor authentication require customers to log into their online accounts using a username, password and a mobile transaction number (mTAN) sent to their mobile device via a text message.

McAfee Labs researchers identified four significant pieces of mobile malware that capture the traditional usernames and passwords, and then intercept SMS messages containing bank account login credentials. The malicious parties then directly access accounts and transfer funds.

Fraudulent dating apps: McAfee Labs discovered a surge in dating and entertainment apps that dupe users into signing up for paid services that do not exist. Lonely users attempt to access potential partners’ profiles and other content only to become further frustrated when the scam is recognized. The profits from the purchases are later supplemented by the ongoing theft and sale of user information and personal data stored on the devices.

Trojanised apps: Research revealed the increasing use of legitimate apps altered to act as spyware on users' devices. These threats collect a large amount of personal user information (contacts, call logs, SMS messages, location) and upload the data to the attacker’s server.

Fake tools: Cyber criminals are also using apps posing as helpful tools, such as app installers that actually install spyware that collects and forwards valuable personal data.

“The mobile cybercrime landscape is becoming more defined as cybergangs determine which tactics are most effective and profitable,” said McAfee’s Vincent Weafer

“As in other mature areas of cybercrime, the profit motive of hacking bank accounts has eclipsed the technical challenges of bypassing digital trust. Tactics such as the dating and entertainment app scams benefit from the lack of attention paid to such schemes; while others simply target the mobile paradigm’s most popular currency: personal user information.”

Beyond mobile threats, the second quarter revealed the continued adaptability of attackers in adjusting tactics to opportunities, challenges to infrastructure upon which commerce relies, and a creative combination of disruption, distraction and destruction to veil advanced targeted attacks:

Ransomware: Over the past two quarters McAfee Labs has catalogued more ransomware samples than in all previous periods combined. The number of new samples in the second quarter was greater than 320,000, more than twice as many as the previous period, demonstrating the profitability of the tactic.

Digitally-signed malware: Malware signed with legitimate certificates increased 50 percent, to 1.2 million new samples, rebounding sharply from a decline in the first quarter. The trend of illegitimate code authenticated by legitimate certificate authorities could inevitably undermine confidence in the global certificate trust infrastructure.

Suspicious URLS: The second quarter’s increase in suspicious URLs shows how important “infected” sites remain as a distribution mechanism for malware. At June’s end, the total number of suspect URLs tallied by McAfee Labs reached 74.7 million, which represents a 16 percent increase over the first quarter.

Spam volume: Global spam volume continued to surge through the second quarter with more than 5.5 trillion spam messages. This represented approximately 70% of global email volume.

Attacks on Bitcoin infrastructure. The sudden activity in the Bitcoin market over the course of the past quarter attracted interest from cybercriminals. In addition to disruptive distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS), the group infected victims with malware that uses computer resources to mine and steal the virtual currency.

Operation Troy: McAfee Labs uncovered evidence that attacks on South Korean banks and media companies in March and June were connected to an ongoing cyber espionage campaign dating back to 2009. Forensic evidence suggested that the campaign was designed to target US and South Korean military systems, identify and remove confidential files, and destroy the compromised systems through a master boot record (MBR) attack

See the full McAfee Threats Report: Second Quarter 2013, at:

http://www.mcafee.com/us/resources/reports/rp-quarterly-threat-q2-2013.pdf

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire and editor of sister publication CommsWire. He is also founder and Research Director of Connection Research, a market research and analysis firm specialising in the convergence of sustainable, digital and environmental technologies. He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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