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Security firm: Android malware pandemic by year's end

Trend Micro warns that cyberattacks and malicious apps targeting Android smartphones are higher than previously expected.

Android malware levels are rising at an alarming rate, according to antivirus maker Trend Micro.

The security firm said at the start of the year, it had found more than 5,000 malicious applications designed to target Google's Android mobile operating system, but the figure has since risen to about 20,000 in recent months.

By the coming third-quarter, the firm estimates there will be around 38,000 malware samples, and close to 130,000 in the fourth-quarter.

If Trend Micro is forecasting the numbers correctly, it won't be a flu epidemic you'll be worried about come winter: it'll be an Android malware pandemic.

Google Play has also been used as a platform to distribute malicious data-stealing or privacy-infringing apps -- arguably the source of many of the malicious apps. 

ZDNet's Ryan Naraine warned this time last year that it was Google's "inability" to keep malware-ridden apps out of the then-named Android Market that has led to an Android malware epidemic, and it even today it continues to be a "source of embarrassment" for the search turned mobile giant.

Trend Micro said more than a dozen malicious apps were downloaded over 700,000 times before they were removed by Google.

The various malware specimens found often vary in what they do: some steal data, some track mobile devices through GPS, while others throw up advertisements or configure the dialer to ring premium rate numbers. 

Android has more than 50 percent of the mobile market share, according to the latest ComScore figures, making the mobile platform an attractive target for malware writers.

"The growth in Android malware demonstrates sustained and focused criminal interest in the mobile platform and particularly in the Android operating system," said Rik Ferguson, Trend Micro's director of security research and communications.

Google did not respond for comment at the time of writing because it's "office will be closed on July 4-6 for Independence Day," but we will update if the search giant responds.

This story was first posted as "Trend Micro warns of Android malware pandemic by Q4 2012" on ZDNet's Between the Lines blog.