Ransomware targeting the Android operating system has grown by over 50% in just a year, as more consumers switch from their PCs to their smartphones, making the mobile OS ecosystem a more worthwhile target for cybercriminals.
According to a report by security firm ESET, the largest spike of crypto-malware attacks came during the first half of 2016. It was also found that so-called "police ransomware" on the lock-screen has been the dominant type of ransomware for Android, effectively scaring victims about some crime it claims they committed, which has led many of them to pay up to the criminals.
Aside from this, the researchers have also found that the perpetrators have increased their efforts into keeping a low profile by encrypting the malware's payload deep within the infected apps.
In ESET's whitepaper called "Trends in Android Ransomware (PDF)," it was indicated that Eastern Europe was the main target of ransomware developers. However, this has changed over time, with 72% of successful attacks recorded in the United States distributing the Lockerpin ransomware.
The research found that this shift was due to mobile users in the United States generally being richer than those in the Eastern Europe, so targeting those in the US would bring in more profit for them.
Lockerpin ransomware was discovered in September 2015, which initially pretends to be a adult video-viewing app. Once it gains the user's trust, it locks them out of their device. An FBI page will be displayed, accusing the victim of watching illegal pornographic material. It will then demand $500 to "settle" the case.
Android ransomware does not only exist on smartphones and tablets, however; back in June 2016, a ransomware called "FLocker" made its way onto smart TVs, displaying a 'US Cyber Police' lock screen and demanding $200 worth of iTunes gift cards to unlock the device. Luckily, the malware has been found to be removable, though access to Android's debug mode is needed.
In order to stay safe from ransomware on Android devices, ESET recommends that users stay away from third-party app stores, and keep mobile security software updated. As usual, even in the mobile world, it pays to be careful of the websites we visit, as not every page we land on is safe - and many are out there to try to deceive us and lock us out of our devices.