Malicious software targeting smartphones with the Android operating system is becoming more common, with some handsets already infected when they’re bought.

A new report finds that malware is surfacing at record levels with over a million new “strains” in the past six months.

Researchers say they discovered “pre-installed spyware embedded in smartphones shipping from Asia.”

The report by German security firm G DATA found that the samples containing such malware had increased by 25 percent in the second quarter compared with the first three months of the year.

The company’s 10th such report, released Wednesday, found that analysts could identify a new strain of malware every 14 seconds.

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“An estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide use a smartphone or tablet to go online. Chatting, surfing and shopping are possible anytime, anywhere thanks to smartphones and tablets. At the same time, the number of mobile malware apps has sharply increased in the past three years,” says Christian Geschkat, G DATA Mobile Solutions Product Manager.

“Over the past year we have seen a significant increase in devices that are equipped with firmware-level spyware and malware out of the box which can take a wide range of unwanted and unknown actions including accessing the Internet, read and send text messages, install apps, access contact lists, obtain location data and more – all which can do detrimental damage.”

Thousands per day

“During the second quarter of 2015, the experts analyzed 6,100 new malware samples every day. By comparison, in the first quarter of 2015, they saw about 4,900 malware apps per day, representing an increase of almost 25 percent quarter over quarter,” G DATA reported.

“Additionally, the first six months of 2015 has already broken all previous malware records – over a million new Android malware strains (1,000,938) were discovered within just six months. In those six months, the analysts have already discovered almost as many Android malware instances as in the whole of 2013.”

The company estimates that “there will be over 2 million new malware apps by the end of the year.”

It says some phones by manufacturers such as Huawei and Xiaomi contain modified apps designed to spy on users or display advertising.

G DATA spokesman Christian Lueg says the phones appear to have been installed by middlemen, but in tracing the source “we lost the trail in China.”

More forecasts

Other predictions from G DATA indicate worse is yet to come:

  • “Year of records: In the second half of 2015, G DATA security experts expect yet another significant increase in Android malware instances. A figure of over 2 million new Android malware strains for the year is likely, which would set a new record.
  • “Android malware is becoming more refined: Hacking Team, an IT company that develops a wide range of malware for intelligence services and governments, suffered a cyber attack this year. After this attack, corporate data and source code for an Android malware strain were published. G DATA security experts expect cyber criminals to exploit this easily accessible knowledge base and publish large numbers of more mature Android malware.”

The G DATA Mobile Malware Report is available at:

https://secure.gd/dl-us-mmwr201502