Mobile virus threat is overblown, security experts say

While some observers have been warning companies and consumers for a while about the growing problem of malware attacking smartphones, recent reports show the mobile virus threat has yet to have much of an impact. 

A lot of the warnings have been about Android devices, since that platform’s more open nature makes it presumably more prone to attacks than its competitors. For example, a report released last year by vendor Lookout predicted that by the end of 2013, 1% of all Android phones and tablets would be infected with a mobile virus.

But that malware explosion has yet to occur, said Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt in a presentation at the recent the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo.

According to reports, Schmidt elicited laughter from the crowd after claiming that Android is more secure than the iPhone.

A similar point was also made by Adrian Ludwig, Chief of Security for Android, at a recent conference in Berlin. The argument made by Schmidt and Ludwig is that by being more open, Android gets a lot of input and innovation from a lot of people, allowing for better and quicker development of controls and fixes compared to Apple’s “walled garden” approach.

While IT pros could probably debate endlessly about which method is better, Google has numbers that show fears about mobile viruses attacking Android are overblown.

Ludwig reported that only 0.001% of all apps downloaded by users are potentially harmful. That includes just 0.12% of all of the apps installed from outside the official Google Play store, despite many observers’ fears that sideloading apps will lead to widespread malware infections.

Google’s research is backed up by a report from the Georgia Institute of Technology and security firm Damballa which found that only 0.0009% of devices on cellular networks contain a mobile virus. When the majority of smartphones run Android, that means the infection is far less than the 1% predicted by Lookout.

What it means for BYOD

The bottom line: While mobile viruses are out there, the difficulty of distributing them, among other factors, means that users are still far more likely to get malware on a PC than a smartphone or tablet they are issued by their employer or bring to work under a BYOD program.

Though things may change in the future, right now, offering some basic mobile security tips to users should keep company data safe from the mobile malware threat.

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