Report: Mobile Use of Social Networking Becoming Preferred Way to Infect Mobile Devices

AVG Technologies recently released its Q1 2012 Community Powered Threat Report. The report highlights the growing use of mobile devices to connect with social networks and how this is fast becoming a preferred method for cyber criminals to spread malware, particularly on those devices running Android.

Yuval Ben-Itzhak, Chief Technology Officer at AVG, said: “We detected a big increase in the use of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter to target Android users. Cyber criminals are finding it very convenient to distribute their malware straight to a mobile device via these networks. The growth of the Android platform has been phenomenal, which has not gone unnoticed with cyber criminals who have discovered it to be a lucrative target for their malware. In 2011, Google had to remove over 100 malicious apps from the official Android market, Google Play.”

Social networks have become a key source of information and communication. Twitter now has more than 140 million active users; and Facebook has more than 845 million users, with some analysts expecting that figure to reach 1 billion this year. The result: targeting those who use Facebook is like targeting around 14 percent of world’s population or approximately 43 percent of global internet users.

Consider also that there are more than 300 million Android phones already activated, with more than 850,000 Android phones and tablets added to that number each day, and it is clear these two trends combined result in a new threat: infecting Android devices using social networks.

Most mobile devices are tied into operator billing systems making monetization of malware a lot more effective than on traditional computer systems. All the attackers need to do is trick users to install a malicious app on their device through which they can then gather cash using the phone companies’ billing systems by utilizing premium SMS services. In many cases, this is done by charging low amounts on an infrequent basis so users don’t even notice.

The Q1 2012 Community Powered Threat Report includes examples of this:

On Facebook, all it takes for a cyber criminal to attack is to set up a fake profile which downloads malware to a device and randomly invite Facebook users.

On Twitter, a cyber criminal creates a spam profile and then posts tweets containing shortened hyperlinks to malware using trending hashtags. The way in which Twitter works makes sure the tweet appears on the top of many people’s Twitter feed.

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