Smartphones including the iPhone and Google Android devices are under increasing threat from computer virus writers aiming to steal money and personal data from users.
New security research has found that the number of malicious software attacks rose by 46 per cent last year.
Cyber criminals are also particularly turning their attentions to Google’s Andoid mobile operating system and Apple’s iPhone as they gain market share, said an annual report by McAfee, one of the largest computer security firms.
Among the new threats discovered last year was a malicious Google Android application that once downloaded would use a security vulnerability to take control and quietly begin sending premium rate text messages. The number was set up by the malware developers, netting them instant profits.
It is also possible for hackers to use similar vulnerabilities to spy on smartphone users, recording calls and text messages, for example to steal banking information. There are several companies that sell such services to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including Andover-based Gamma Group International.
McAfee said most mobile viruses still targeted users of Nokia’s Symbian operating system. Virus writers tend to follow the market, however, and Android overtook Symbian as the leading smartphone platform in the fourth quarter of last year, according to mobile industry analysts.
The relative vulnerability of Android phones and the iPhone is a major advantage in the corporate market for the BlackBerry. It can be easily set up by IT departments to use strong encryption and so that users cannot download applications.
McAfee’s research also found that spam represented 80 per cent of email traffic last year, its lowest level since 2007. It attributed the drop to an unusual dormant period for several major botnets, the vast networks of compromised computers used by criminals to distribute spam.