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Hackers are increasingly targeting Android devices, McAfee warns

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

June 03, 2013|By Paresh Dave
  • Android users should be wary when downloading apps, a new report warns. Above, Hugo Barra, vice president of product management for Android at Google, at a conference in San Francisco.
Android users should be wary when downloading apps, a new report warns.… (David Paul Morris / Bloomberg )

When they were listed on the Google Play store, Superclean and DroidCleaner appeared to be useful apps to free up wasted memory on mobile devices. But actually they were dangerous apps that could send an Android user’s text messages, contacts and photos to a hacker’s computer.

The volume of malware targeted at mobile devices, such as Superclean and DroidCleaner, surged nearly 40% in the first quarter of 2013, according to researchers at security solutions provider McAfee. Although the growth rate dropped slightly from the previous two quarters, McAfee researchers said the number of mobile attacks remained on course to top 2012 numbers.

The company’s quarterly threat report also noted that mobile malware had spread to countries such as South Korea and India. South Koreans were targeted by an app that forwarded and deleted text messages. It was disguised as an app to receive mobile coupons for a coffee chain.

PHOTOS: Top Cyber Attacks of 2013

Overall malware growth across all computing devices totaled about 15 million new pieces of malicious attacks entering McAfee’s “zoo” in the first three months of 2013. Among the growth areas were an attack in which compromised USB thumb drives sent personal information back to a hacker and one that took advantage of out-of-date software (Java, Office, Internet Explorer) to install "ransomware."

"With ransomware, cyber criminals hold a system hostage and insist on payment to unlock a computer," the report says. "But will they free the machine after the victim pays? There are no guarantees, and  anonymous payment systems make it basically impossible to track their movements."

The McAfee report also found an uptick in spam globally after a drop in 2012. But in the United States, the volume of spam continued to decline.

[For the record, 4:45 p.m., June 10: Because of incorrect information from McAfee's original report, a previous version of this post incorrectly said that one of the growing attacks involved dangerous links shared through Facebook.]


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