Unregulated mobile app markets are a godsend to malware developers
Posted on 09.02.2011
It's basic economics - as the number of sold smartphones continues to rise worldwide, so will the number of threats targeting the users of these devices.

One of the biggest threats is (predictably) expected to be malware disguised as or bungled with legitimate applications. The fact that regulated and an even greater number of unregulated app markets are currently springing up left and right, we'll probably not have to wait long for the fulfillment of that particular prediction.

It would be wrong to say that regulated markets are the only ones where you can be sure of what you download, since it has been proven that - on occasion - their screening procedure failed to spot and thwart the sale of potentially or de facto malicious mobile malware. And that's without even mentioning occasional threats to user security that arise from badly thought-out features.

But it is fair to say that unregulated markets are those that pose a greater threat. Some have been around for ages - simple download or user forum file share sites that offer all kind of software and have dedicated sections for applications for mobile devices.

Since they usually don't have any vetting procedures in place, it's easy for developers of malicious apps to offer their wares to the users.

But according to Symantec's security expert Irfan Asrar, there is a third type of market that is a godsend to cyber criminals.

"What can be best described at times as a loose coupling of independent pockets of cloud hosted file repositories brought together via a storefront app (usually only accessible via a mobile device) these fly by night operations seem to be using the same play book used by radio pirates operating off the coast of England in the 70s," he explains.

"Their operations tend to be limited in their broadcast until they are discovered and/or have to move for one reason or another, at which point the user is required to update the repository list or download a newer version of the app with the location of the file server or repositories."

The absence of any kind of screening mechanisms and the great demand for apps that countries like China are currently experiencing makes this type of market a preferred distribution point for malware developers, especially since these are not markets and apps sanctioned by the manufacturers and often require the user to switch off the device's security features and checks.


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