More than a thousand smartphone users have downloaded ‘trojanised' versions of mobile applications that secretly sent expensive SMS messages to premium-rate numbers.
According to a report by The Daily Telegraph, the infected app it gained access to users' phones and sent three premium-rate text messages each time the app was opened, costing £15 (A$24).
UK industry regulator PhonepayPlus uncovered that 1391 mobile phone numbers in the UK had been stung by the scam, and this has led to it fining the premium short message receiver A1 Limited A1 Aggregator Ltd £50,000 (A$80,000) and forcing it to adhere to stricter operating terms and to refund all customers.
Carl Leonard, senior security research manager EMEA at Websense, said: “Mobile apps are a powerful malware delivery technique as most users are willing to allow apps to do anything to get the desired functionality. Cyber criminals are beginning to use these malicious apps not only to make a quick buck but to also steal valuable data.
“For example, a malicious app could access the data on your phone, or access all of your contacts. This is particularly bad news for businesses that allow bring-your-own-device (BYOD) schemes but don't have the right security to protect their mobile data.”
The McAfee threats report for the first quarter of 2012 found that Android malware increased from 2000 to 8000 items from 2011 to 2012, while the amount of mobile malware increased from a few hundred samples spotted per quarter in 2011 to more than 6000 in Q1 2012.
David Emm, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, said: “Kaspersky Lab saw the same number of mobile threats in 2011 alone as we had seen in the previous six years. In March 2012 alone we analysed more than 2500 threats and the overall total now exceeds 12,500.
“The mobile threat landscape is dominated by malware designed to run on Android, we see that 65 per cent of all threats are aimed at this platform. The platform is popular, it's easy to write apps for it and it's easy to distribute them via Google Play, so it's little wonder that cyber criminals are making use of Google Play, where malware masquerades as a legitimate app.
“Everyone should be cautious when downloading apps. Clearly it's safer to download apps from a trusted site like Google Play. But you should still pay close attention to the permissions requested by an app when you install it. If it asks for permission to send/receive messages, but this doesn't match the functionality of the app, don't install it. You should also protect your device with a mobile anti-virus product.”