We’re halfway through a year that’s shaping up to be one of rising danger online, according to McAfee’s latest threat report. Researchers discovered that 2012’s first quarter saw personal computer and smartphone threats reach a four-year high, including an increase in malware across PC, Mac and mobile devices.

The report data covers malware occurrences in the year’s first three months. McAfee released the results in late May.

Highlights from the report’s findings for Q1 2012 include:

  • 8,000 total mobile malware samples were collected, a dramatic increase from the roughly 400 samples found in Q4 2011;
  • Nearly 7,000 Android threats were collected through the end of the period; and
  • 83 million pieces of PC malware were collected during the period — the largest number of this type seen in four years — up from 75 million samples in Q4 2011.

     

According to Adam Wosotowsky, McAfee research analyst, the Android platform’s flexibility makes it uniquely vulnerable to compromise. People can install programs on that platform that aren’t from the Google Android marketplace, which opens it up to third-party forces.

“When we see a lot of these malwares for the phone we are mainly seeing those on third-party sites,” he said. “We are not seeing those on Google marketplace.”

But encouraging data was also to be found on the report.

  • Global spam levels dropped to more than 1 trillion monthly spam messages;
  • Mac malware is much less prevalent than PC malware, with about 250 new Mac malware samples found and about 150 new Mac fake anti-virus samples found; and
  • Authorities made significant arrests, including the March 20 announcement that the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Federal Security Service had arrested eight alleged criminals who stole more than $2 million.

According to the report data, most servers hosting malicious websites reside in the United States. The report depicts the proportional relationships, but doesn’t list any numerical or percentage values to support that assertion.

McAfee recorded an average of 9,000 new bad websites popping up each day worldwide, a slight decrease from the 9,300 average from Q4 2011.

“It becomes your normal browsing even if you are not out there looking for porn or looking for search terms,” Wosotowsky said. “There is an increased risk of just getting a drive-by download to infect your machine just because you did something normal.”

Hilton Collins, Staff Writer Hilton Collins  |  GT Staff Writer

By day, Hilton Collins is a staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines who covers sustainability, cybersecurity and disaster management issues. By night, he’s a sci-fi/fantasy fanatic, and if he had to choose between comic books, movies, TV shows and novels, he’d have a brain aneurysm. He can be reached at hcollins@govtech.com and on @hiltoncollins on Twitter.