Mobile malware explodes in first half of 2011

If you own an Android phone or iPhone, you’re 2.5 more times likely to accidentally download malware today than you were in January.

The number of apps infected with malicious code grew from 80 to 400 between the beginning of the year and now, according to a study from security firm Lookout Mobile Security.

The company estimates as many as one million smartphone owners were exposed to malware in the first six months of 2011, and stresses that it’s not always easy to spot an illegitimate application.

Unlike PCs and Macs, it is much more difficult to spot shady-looking apps on mobile marketplaces, but users should always look at the fine details before downloading – what information does the app have access to? What is the name of the developer of the app? If it sounds unusual, check it out on Google first.

Also, don’t just blindly download app updates – make sure to check how an app’s information access changes when requesting an update download.

“As mobile devices grow in popularity, so do the incentives for attackers. We’ve seen the prevalence and the level of sophistication of mobile malware attacks evolve significantly in the first six months of 2011. We expect this trend to continue as more and more people adopt mobile devices,” said Lookout Mobile Security CTO Kevin Mahaffey in a statement.

The most prevalent malware apps were in the Android Market and were apps that disguised themselves as games. There are mobile security programs out there but they are far less popular than PC antivirus programs.