Encountering Mobile Threats Extremely Low in U.S., Security Firm Finds

A new study of the threats to smartphone and tablet users has found that despite a steady increase in mobile threats globally, the chance of device owners in the United States of encountering them is extremely low.

The biggest threat to U.S. mobile device owners is adware, with 1.6 percent encountering the issue, according to Lookout Mobile Security. Mobile applications that collect information about individuals without their consent or display ads in the notification tray or other location on the device without the device owner's approval is considered adware by Lookout.

"Adware dominates detections in all countries, due to a lack of clear guidelines for what is acceptable for mobile advertising and higher payouts for unscrupulous advertising methods," Lookout said. "Chargeware, applications that sneakily charge users without making it clear, comes in second place behind adware in most countries."

[Related: Top 5 Android Malware Threats ]

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The San Francisco-based security firm's study, released today, analyzed mobile threats that it cataloged from Jan. 1 to May 16. It looked at the detection rate of each threat that new Lookout users encounter over the first seven days of use of its security app. It then used a formula that incorporates its entire user base to estimate the likelihood of encountering mobile dangers.

Malware, such as spyware and Trojans that secretly steal data from device owners, affects an estimated 0.2 percent of U.S. mobile users. Mobile apps that appear legitimate but steal contact information and other data in the background are encountered by 0.5 percent of new Lookout users, the mobile security firm said.

NEXT: Threats Higher In Other Parts Of The World

Security firms that have been collecting data on threats to mobile users have consistently said that the dangers increase in other regions of the world. Security experts agree that the dangers threaten users of Google's Android platform the most. The highest detection rates of malicious applications, adware and other attacks targeting mobile users is in Asia and Eastern Europe. Mobile threats are steadily rising and spreading to other areas including Italy, India and Australia, according to security firm McAfee.

Lookout's study analyzed users in India, where it found the chance of encountering a mobile threat at more than 5 percent, with the majority of the potential issues being adware. Lookout said several adware variants that specifically target gaming apps have been frequently detected in the region.

"The specific prevalence of mobile threats varies across a broad spectrum that ranges from irritating to dangerous," Lookout said.

A serious threat frequently encountered by security firms are SMS Trojans that accrue premium rate text messaging charges without the user's consent. In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission has been cracking down on SMS-related spam and potentially malicious activity. Lookout worked with Cloudmark to uncover the SpamSoldier Android botnet in December. The botnet had the capability to turn an Android device into a botnet, stealthily sending out hundreds of SMS messages to contacts.

Germany holds the title for the highest risk of encountering an SMS Trojan or a malicious application designed to steal contacts and other sensitive data. Trojans affect 0.78 percent of mobile owners, Lookout said. The SMS problem has the least impact in Japan, where premium SMS charges are not supported, Lookout said. Adware is the biggest problem there, the security firm said.