The first examples of malicious programs for mobile phones showed up in 2004. These programs initially targeted the Symbian operating system, but they marked only the beginning of the threat from mobile malware.
Since then, it’s taken a relatively long time for cybercriminals to develop mobile malware in significant numbers. The big wave of mobile phone malware happened when a new generation of smartphones running Android or iOS operating systems became popular. Thousands of mobile malware variants have been discovered since late 2010, when the first malware samples for Android and iOS devices were identified.
Today, malware researchers have discovered many more malicious apps for Android than for iOS, most likely due to Android devices allowing their users to install apps using third-party sources. File sharing sites often host malicious versions of popular applications and games.
With mobile malware, similar to malware for personal computers, the focus for cybercriminals is on making money. Similar to Windows malware, mobile malware spreads fake antivirus applications and steals confidential information. Other types of mobile malware send SMS messages or place calls to premium rate numbers, if the target device is a part of a mobile phone network.
Even trusted sources host applications that may pose a risk to the user’s privacy. Many advertising frameworks may share a user’s personally identifiable information, such as location or phone number. These applications may be classified as potentially unwanted applications (PUAs).
You can keep your mobile device free of mobile malware if you keep the mobile operating system current with security updates and by downloading and installing only applications from trusted sources such as Google Play and Apple iTunes. For devices running Android, we recommend installing security software such as Sophos Mobile Security.