2011 Predictions: The Year of Mobile Malware, finally?

In addition to looking back at the attacks we saw in 2010, here are some predictions for network security trends that will affect consumers in 2011.

Mobile Malware

As smartphones become the device of choice for accessing the Internet, it’s inevitable that they will be exploited by cybercriminals, despite the best efforts of manufacturers and application developers to prevent it. The smartphone culture that downloads “apps” for just about everything is a huge target that will not be ignored by malware developers.

Mobile Dialers

In its traditional form, dialer malware used a computer modem to make calls to 1-900 telephone numbers. The phone company charged the user for these calls and passed the money on to the attacker. As broadband Internet access replaced dial-up access, these attacks became less attractive because computers were rarely connected to regular phone lines. However, now that phones themselves are capable of running sophisticated applications, it is inevitable that the dialer attack will come back into fashion.

Mobile Botnets

Look for 2011 to be the year of the mobile botnet. The primary drivers will be the same as for traditional computer based bots: Spam, DDoS and identity theft. However these bots will be much worse. The Spam will not just be limited to email but can include SMS and phone calls, making the victim pay the cost. A mobile DDoS attack can not only be directed at Internet services, but can also have a debilitating effect on the mobile phone network itself, and once again force the victim to pay the bill.

In December 2010, the “Geinimi” Trojan that infected Chinese Android phones was found to have botnet capabilities. This is likely the first of many.

Evolution of Browser-based Malware

This particularly dangerous type of malware embeds itself in a user’s browser, giving it complete access to all of their Internet activity. At first these types of attacks were used to inject pop-up ads or hijack a user’s search engine. Browser-based malware has evolved over the last two years to become banking bots, such as Zeus and SpyEye. Both of these banking bots hook directly into your browser to intercept banking transactions and steal your online banking credentials. In 2011, we will see these threats expand to attacks directed at other forms of e-commerce. Attacks directed at PayPal and eBay and retail credit cards have already been seen. The technology can also be applied to social networking sites where online identity theft would be the main motivator.

Macs will get hit

The Mac OS has become a popular alternative to Windows as the computing platform of choice in recent years. It now has enough market share to get on the attackers’ radar. Analyst figures put Mac OS market share in the U.S. at around 10 percent. In a recent survey, Kindsight found that almost 25 percent of households have at least one Mac. With this newfound popularity, Mac users can anticipate malware targeted directly at them.Fortunately, many top anti-virus vendors now offer security solutions that are specific to the Mac platform. In addition, network-based Kindsight is OS agnostic, so it can easily detect threats on any operating system as it’s analyzing the network traffic.

Post by Kevin McNamee, Kindsight Security Architect