Europe's mobile criminals migrate to 'chargeware' fraud for richer pickings

Chargeware booms on back of porn apps

Tougher regulatiory intervention in Europe has caused criminals to move away from traditional premium SMS fraud in favour of newer cons such as chargeware, mobile security firm Lookout Mobile Security has reported.

The firm's 2013 review based on its 50-million active user base found that straight malware is still a fairly rare phenomenon, being encountered by only one and five percent of users across the US and most European countries, including the UK. In contrast, this hit a staggering 63 percent in Russia where many users download apps from risky third-party sources known to have a malware problem.

Turning to adware, encounter rates rose sharply to between 20 and 30 percent for the US and Europe, recording 23 percent in the UK and 25 percent in the US. Although still a problem, a Google crack-down on abusive adware apps in September 2013 did have the effect of stemming the tide of adware to some extent.

In the face of crackdowns on companies running SMS frauds, a bigger worry for these countries is now chargeware - apps that charge users unexpectedly or without notification - with Europe showing the highest global rates.

In Spain this reached 23 percent, in France 13 percent, while Germany escaped with only 2 percent. However, the UK's 20 percent wasn't far behind Spain thanks to a single porn app, SMS Capers, which on its own accounted for half the activity in this category.

An important qualification is that security apps don't necessarily offer an accurate picture of real encounter rates for users as a whole. Relatively few users load them and those who do are possibly more likely to behave in a risky way.

"Chargeware too is a highly country specific threat because it relies on mobile charging practices, which can vary on a per-country (or even per carrier) basis," said Lookout's researchers.

The biggest chance of meeting chargeware was users loading porn apps, they added.

The most important correlation was user behaviour. Users who became infected with malware were far more likely to be infected a second time through another source; a similar pattern applied to adware and chargeware.

Lookout has some form when it comes to the adware issue in particular, still the biggest problem daily faced by Android users. Last summer, the firm published the tough stance it said it would take on ad networks distributing intrusive ads inside legitimate apps.

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