Amid growing sales, Android attracts more malware

2011 is shaping up to be banner year for malware, which is at an all-time high for attacks and is increasingly going mobile with Android(s goog) the primary target, according to McAfee (s intc). The company released its second quarter threats report, finding there were 12 million unique samples of malware for the first half of this year, up 22 percent over 2010, making this the busiest half-year in malware history.

Malware is nothing new, and the latest numbers show this is still a significant threat for computer users. Even Apple’s (s aapl) Mac OS X platform was found to have fake anti-virus software for the first time, which can install malicious scripts on computers, said McAfee.

But the report is most interesting, I think, in how it highlights the growing opportunity for malware to target mobile platforms instead of traditional desktop environments. McAfee said Android took the top spot in mobile malware attacks in the second quarter, growing 76 percent from last quarter, moving past Symbian OS(s nok) and J2ME(s orcl). Android had 44 attacks last quarter, compared to 14 for J2ME and 4 each for Symbian and Blackberry(s rimm). The growing malware shift to Android reflects its rise as a smartphone platform and shows that Android users will need to be more wary of attacks that can take on the form of maliciously modified apps, SMS messages and fake app updates. Apple’s iOS, by contrast, did not have any attacks in the second quarter.

McAfee said it saw an increase in for-profit mobile malware as cybercriminals leaned on SMS-sending Trojans that send premium messages or sign people up for premium subscription services.

The mobile attacks aren’t yet an everyday headache for users, and many can avoid problems by sticking to reputable apps from respectable stores. But the report does highlight some of the vulnerability around Android, which doesn’t have a rigorous app review process and allows users to side-load apps, something Darrell wrote about recently. It will be interesting to see if these attacks, if they go unabated, do anything to curtail interest in the platform. Probably not, at least for now.

More likely, it just means more business for companies like Lookout and McAfee, which conveniently just announced that it has secured a deal with NEC to install McAfee Mobile Security suite on NEC’s LifeTouch series cloud communicator Android device.