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Mobile Malware Attacks Dropped in 2021 but Sophistication Increased

The number of mobile malware attacks saw a significant drop in 2021, but attacks were more sophisticated, according to the latest mobile malware report from Kaspersky.

The cybersecurity firm’s products detected nearly 3.5 million malicious installation packages on mobile devices in 2021, far less than the 5.7 million detected in the previous year. However, it’s worth noting that the number recorded in 2021 is almost exactly the same as in 2019.

A majority of these infection attempts targeted users in Asian countries, with Iran, China and Saudi Arabia accounting for the highest attack percentages.

Unsurprisingly, a majority of the packages blocked by Kaspersky delivered adware and potentially unwanted software.

When it comes to banking trojans, which accounted for less than 3% of attacks (97,000 malicious installation packages), these threats mostly targeted users in richer countries, such as Japan, Spain, Turkey, France, Australia, Germany, Norway, Italy, Croatia and Austria.

Mobile banking trojans

As for mobile ransomware, the number of infection attempts dropped from approximately 20,000 in 2020 to 17,000 in 2021. These attacks mostly targeted users in Asia.

While the volume of attacks seems to have decreased, Kaspersky warns of an increase in sophistication, both in terms of malware functionality and attack vectors.

In some cases, malicious code was loaded into popular mobile apps through advertising SDKs (e.g. Triada trojan). Cybercriminals have also managed in many cases to deliver their malware and scammy applications through Google Play and other official app stores.

“Banking Trojans acquired new capabilities in 2021,” Kaspersky said. “The Fakecalls banker, which targets Korean users, drops outgoing calls to the victim’s bank and plays pre-recorded operator responses stored in the Trojan’s body.”

It added, “The Sova banker steals cookies, enabling attackers to access the user’s current session and personal mobile banking account without knowing the login credentials. The Vultur backdoor uses VNC (Virtual Network Computing) to record the smartphone screen; when the user opens an app that is of interest to attackers, they can monitor the on-screen events.”

However, the most notable mobile “malware” remains the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, which has used what Google described as the most technically sophisticated exploit ever seen.

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.