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Threatdown for mobile viruses? Maybe not

by Howard Wolinsky

In a new report on “threats,” McAfee reported that the Android OS from Google is the biggest target for malware. The security software company said that malware aimed at Android had increased 37 percent since the second quarter.

And Kapersky Labs blogged about Android phones, especially used in corporate settings, being under threat: “The company’s analysts noted a continued growth in cyber-attacks against some of the world’s biggest corporations throughout the period. When it comes to attacking smartphones, there were clear signs that cybercriminals have made Android their platform of choice.”

“Yet, there are questions on whether or not the threat of Android malware is really as bad as McAfee and other security companies are making it seem,” said Sue Marquette Poremba in ITBusinessEdge.

Eric Zeman asked at InformationWeek: “Are you scared yet, Android smartphone owners? Are you quaking in your boots? Are you ready to buy anti-malware and antivirus software from these companies? Should your corporate IT department be licensing protection schemes in bulk?”

Google’s Chris DiBona weighed in on Google+, warning that virus companies “are playing on your fears to try to sell you bs protection software for Android, RIM and IOS. They are charlatans and scammers. IF you work for a company selling virus protection for android, rim or IOS you should be ashamed of yourself.”

He said traditional computer viruses are “possible, but not probable” in the smartphone world. “The barriers to spreading such a program from phone to phone are large and difficult enough to traverse when you have legitimate access to the phone, but this isn't Independence Day, a virus that might work on one device won't magically spread to the other,” he said.

Zeman gave a nod to points made by security companies, but sided with DiBona: “Well, there's some truth to what the security vendors are telling us. Smartphones—and apparently Android devices in particular—can be infected with malware through careless use.

“But DiBona is right, too. How do we know that he is? Because there haven't been mass breakouts or major epidemics of malware spreading from phone to phone to phone. It simply hasn't happened yet. Could it? Yes. Will it? Probably not anytime soon.”

Poremba said her smartphone is too important to her—so she’s opting for caution and protection.