Mobile malware threat overblown, says Google programmer

There have been a lot of warnings lately about the increasing threat of viruses and other attacks targeting mobile devices. But the supposed crisis may not deserve so much attention, says one software expert. 

Numerous reports from the past year or so have claimed that we’re in the midst of a mobile malware explosion and that attacks on mobile devices will soon become the number one security threat facing consumers and IT professionals.

One study, released recently by vendor Juniper Networks, found the amount of malware attacking Android devices has increased by 472% since July. That data came after Juniper had already found a 400% increase from 2009 to the summer of 2010.

In addition to the number of attacks, the study found mobile malware to be growing in complexity, citing new viruses that can gain root access to devices, in addition to mobile spyware and Trojans that use a victim’s phone to send expensive text messages.

Many tech experts (and mobile security vendors) are pointing at this study and other research as a warning for IT pros and consumers to brace themselves for a wave of mobile malware.

But not everyone is buying into the hype of the new threat. For example, Chris DiBona, Google’s open source programs manager, says warnings about a mobile security crisis are wildly overblown.

In a post on the Google+ social network, DiBona claimed the warnings are the result of vendors trying to sell new security products for mobile devices.

While malicious apps exist, DiBona wrote, the problem pales in comparison to virus problems PCs and, to an extent, Mac machines face. Mobile threats are largely contained due to sandboxing techniques and the difficulty of spreading a virus from phone to phone, compared to the ease of malware spreading over a network of PCs.

And, as far as the numbers cited by studies, much of that can be explained by the fact that smartphone use has exploded in recent years — just a few years ago, the amount of mobile malware was essentially zero, so any increase would create a big impact, percentage-wise.

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