For those who think we’ve already seen the worst of the Android threat, think again. The past quarter has seen the number of malicious apps double from 10,000 to 20,000 in just one month, while hundreds of thousands of devices were infected after malware found its way onto the official Google Play marketplace, according to Trend Micro.

The latest data collated from Trend Micro’s TrendLabs threat response team shows the true scale of the Android menace.

In the first three months of the year the team identified 5,000 malicious applications designed to infect Android phones, a number which spiked more than four-fold over subsequent months.

More worryingly for users, even Google’s official application marketplace, Google Play, was breached, with 17 malicious apps downloaded over 700,000 times before they were spotted and removed from the site.

As ever, criminals want to make money out of their victims by tricking them into using premium rate services or viewing mobile ads; stealing sensitive data; or even turning their phones into part of a botnet.

“The growth in Android malware demonstrates sustained and focussed criminal interest in the mobile platform and particularly in the Android operating system”, said Rik Ferguson, director of security research and communications at Trend Micro. “Criminals have always followed user behaviour and they continue to do so. As we move steadily to the mobile web, mobile devices offer new avenues for criminal revenue generation alongside the continuation of the old. Consumers need to use care when downloading and installing apps and should be considering installing antimalware on their mobile devices”

The most common type of malicious app – accounting for 30 per cent of all those Trend Micro encountered – is a type, which is disguised as a highly popular legitimate app.

Other malicious apps, which users should avoid allow hackers to spy on the device by monitoring its GPS signal and reading any text and address book info. Two of these types of threats – Spy Tool and Spy Phone PRO+ – were recently spotted by Trend Micro as downloadable apps in Google Play.

Trend Micro advises users to be aware that Android is an open ecosystem where the level of vetting of applications before they are allowed on Google Play is minimal, therefore the site carries more risk than the more tightly controlled Apple App Store.

Third party stores are likely to pose even greater security risks, so users should remain cautious on such sites about what they download – if a paid-for app is being offered for free, for example, avoid it.

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