Lauren Goode

Recent Posts by Lauren Goode

An App for Monitoring Mobile Malware Around the Globe

Lookout Mobile Security, the start-up behind wireless security software and a “Plan B” app for finding lost phones, has launched a new app for keeping an eye on malware hotspots around the world.

The Mobile Threat Tracker app consolidates the most recent two weeks’ worth of Lookout’s security data into a kind of mobile heat map. The user sees dots flying around the globe as a real-time visualization of where threats are happening.

When users scroll over the globe, a timeline appears, showing how much of the threat is malware and how much is spyware; the top three threats are listed along with plain-English descriptions, and why Lookout has identified them as malicious.

Kevin Mahaffey, Lookout’s co-founder and CTO, said the app isn’t necessarily about offering immediate solutions, but more about making people aware of when they might be particularly vulnerable on mobile. “People shouldn’t have to be security experts to stay safe. We want to remind them to download apps from reputable app stores, to not go to shady download sites; to look at the developer name behind an app, and make sure it’s legitimate.”

The Mobile Threat Tracker is only available on devices running an Android OS to start, and Mahaffey says it’s unclear whether there will be a version for iOS devices. “Right now, it makes less sense, because there isn’t any real malware on the iPhone,” Mahaffey said, “though at some point there might be a need for it.”

Lookout Mobile Security launched in 2007, and now claims more than 15 million users worldwide. The company says it takes an educational approach to informing people about products for malware and spyware, rather than using fear-mongering in its marketing; it offers most of its apps for free, with additional features available at a premium.

While threats on mobile devices still aren’t as high-scale as malware and spyware on PCs, Lookout’s internal research shows that the amount of malware on mobile has increased.

Lookout said the likelihood of an Android user encountering malware increased from 1 percent to 4 percent over the course of 2011. The company has identified more than a thousand instances of infected applications, double the number it saw in July 2011.

The Lookout report notes that Web-based threats like phishing can carry over easily from PCs, making the likelihood of clicking on a bad link higher than that of acquiring malware through mobile apps. The global yearly likelihood of an Android user clicking on an unsafe link is 36 percent — up 6 percent from just six months ago — while in the U.S., the likelihood is higher than the global average, at 40 percent.

(Photo courtesy of TheTechBlock/Flickr)

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik