Mobile Malware: Symbian Is Worst, Apple and Google Nearly Tied

Last Updated Apr 1, 2011 9:51 PM EDT

Security vendor Fortinet posted its latest statistics on malware for mobile phones and then sent some of its raw data to BNET to see how the various smartphone platforms were doing. The numbers suggest two things: be really careful if you have a Symbian phone, and there is plenty of malware targeting everyone, including Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG).

One important caveat: the statistics are based on what Fortinet sees, and it's difficult to say how representational that data might be. That said, here's a pie chart breakout of where mobile malware writers target their activities:


The vast majority of malware originates in Russia and China (33 percent and 28 percent, respectively). About 55 percent of malware families (groups of related variations of a given type of attack) target Symbian.

From previous conversations with Fortinet, the reason would seem to be popularity. For years, the operating system favored by Nokia (NOK) had the biggest market presence. Just as famous criminal Willie Sutton robbed banks because there's where the money was, malware writers often want the biggest bank for the byte, and so target popular platforms.

The next most popular malware approach is Java-running phones, targeted by 15 percent of malware families. Given the above rationale, that would make sense, as so many phone platforms run software written in the language.

Tied at 9 percent were both Google Android and Microsoft (MSFT) Windows CE. The Microsoft platform has been around for years, so no surprise that it had collected some malware followers.

Android has become so big so quickly, and has such an open marketplace, it attracts the wrong sort of attention. In raw numbers, the 9 percent translates into 17 malware families. What may surprise many is that Apple iOS fares little better, even with the Apple-controlled App Store, with 13 malware families, or 7 percent of the total. In short, there's virtually no difference between the two. Behind Apple comes Research in Motion (RIMM), with 9 families, or 5 percent of the total.

The numbers don't suggest what will happen over the long haul. Android has caught up with the iPhone in a relatively short time, RIM is shifting its devices to run on QNX, and HP now owns Palm's operating system. One thing to be sure of: If the trends continue they will probably make a lot of antivirus vendors very happy.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.