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McAfee: Mobile threats on the rise

As more people opt for smartphones and tablets, threats to such mobile devices are increasing, according to McAfee.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read

Mobile threats are spreading and spam continues to be a thorn in the average person's side, according to a new McAfee report about the fourth quarter.

Mobile malware threats increased by 46 percent last year as criminals continued to embrace new opportunities on smartphones and tablets, the security firm said today.

"One of the most important threats of the quarter" among mobile devices was the Android-based Geinimi Trojan that Zeus botnet creators unleashed. It was flanked by several other malware threats, like the Symbian OS-focused Zitmo.A, McAfee said.

"Cybercriminals are keeping tabs on what's popular, and what will have the biggest impact from the smallest effort," Vincent Weafer, senior vice president of McAfee Labs, said in a statement. "McAfee Labs also sees the direct correlation between device popularity and cybercriminal activity, a trend we expect to surge in 2011."

McAfee's latest report could help bolster support for the company's plans in 2011 to become increasingly invested in mobile security, thanks to Intel, which announced plans to acquire the security firm last year in a deal valued at $7.68 billion. Intel said at the time that it plans to use McAfee's core security products to improve protection for mobile devices, TVs, and other products that the chipmaker believes don't have enough protection.

McAfee found in its report that the "lack of security awareness and mobile safeguards" will lead smartphone owners to face an increasing number of botnet attacks this year.

In addition, the growth of mobile devices and Web-connected products like Internet TVs contributed to more Web-based threats in 2010, McAfee said. The company found that phishing scams asking people to provide information to the Internal Revenue Service, offering gift cards, and stealing social-networking account information were quite "popular" in the fourth quarter. Worst of all, McAfee said that 51 percent of the top 100 search results for the top daily search terms directed people to malicious sites.

Adobe Systems also took a beating in McAfee's quarterly report. The security firm found that all last year, malware creators were "heavily" targeting Flash and PDF and that Adobe Acrobat was the most popular place for malicious users to take aim at unsuspecting victims. Worst of all, the security firm said it's "certain" that Adobe will continue to be hit hard by malware in 2011.

Spam continues to be a major issue for people, accounting for 80 percent of all e-mail traffic in the fourth quarter, McAfee reported. At that level, however, spam actually hit a low it hasn't touched since the first quarter of 2007.

When it came to malware, consumers weren't so lucky. Twenty million "new pieces of malware" were developed in 2010, McAfee said.