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This year’s first quarter was difficult for Android as the operating system saw its first threat distribution outside of apps via email spam, the first targeted attacks, and the first advanced fee fraud scam, new research shows.

On top of all that, it became apparent there is an increase in the commoditization of Android malware, according to research by F-Secure Labs over the January through March time frame.

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The number of mobile threat families and variants continued to rise by 49 percent from the previous quarter, from 100 to 149. Of those 149, 136, or 91.3 percent, of these were Android and 13, or 8.7 percent, Symbian. The Q1 2013 numbers are more than double that of a year ago in Q1 2012, when 61 new families and variants became apparent.

The new Android techniques are a cause for concern, said Sean Sullivan, Security Advisor at F-Secure Labs.

Cyber Security

“I’ll put it this way: Until now, I haven’t worried about my mother with her Android because she’s not into apps. Now I have reason to worry because with cases like Stels, Android malware is also being distributed via spam, and my mother checks her email from her phone,” he said.

The Android Trojan known as Stels began distributing via fake U.S. Internal Revenue Service-themed emails, using an Android crimeware kit to steal sensitive information from the device, and monetizing by making calls to premium numbers. This example of mobile malware commoditization “could be a game changer,” Sullivan said.

Q1 also saw the first confirmed targeted attacks in the mobile space. Tibetan human rights activists ended up targeted with emails that contained an Android-malware-infected attachment, and a “coupon app” for a popular coffee chain steals information from phones with South Korean country codes.

India is also a mobile target, as the discovery of the first Android advanced fee fraud showed. A fake “job offer” Android app in India informs the user is under consideration for a position at TATA Group, an Indian multinational company. To arrange the interview, the app asks for a refundable security deposit.

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