McAfee focuses on privacy in mobile security software package for Android

Android apps could invade a users' privacy and expose his personal life, McAfee said

McAfee is expanding its mobile security software for Android tablets and smartphones, as it sees an increase in threats targeting Android devices, the Intel subsidiary announced.

The new Mobile Security software has features that help ensure that apps are not accessing personal information without the user's knowledge, and reports on apps that may be sending personal data to risky sites such as adware and spyware networks, McAfee said in a news release. The software should also protect customers against financial fraud, identity theft and viruses, it said.

The new security suite also allows users to filter their App Alert notifications in apps that are using permissions the user deems important, and it checks if apps are associated with risky URLs, McAfee said, adding that McAfee Labs has discovered that approximately five percent of apps in its database are associated with risky URLs.

This summer, McAfee has seen an increase in threats targeting Android devices, the company said. "The Android operating system continues to be the most popular target for writers of mobile malware--including SMS-sending malware, mobile botnets, spyware, and destructive Trojans," according to McAfee. To steer clear from malicious apps, users should research apps and app publishers and check ratings before they decide to install the software, it said.

As security firms concentrate more and more on mobile offerings, adding new features such as privacy controls is very important, in particular to protect the user from banking fraud or identity theft, said Ben Wood, director of research at CCS Insight.

But the problem for security companies is that most users don't regard mobile security problems as a big threat, he said. "Turning mobile security into a meaningful product has proven to be difficult," he said.

McAfee's mobile security software recently surpassed one million downloads on Google Play, the Android app store. This proves that consumers are not really concerned, said Wood, who added that one million downloads is a fairly small number if you keep in mind that there are tens of millions of Android devices sold.

"There are a lot of companies in the mobile security space," Wood said, who reckoned that there is a big potential in the mobile security market. But to convince consumers that there is a need for mobile security software, there first has to be a disastrous mobile security problem that affects many users so they become aware of the threat, he said. "Then everybody rushes off to buy it," he added.

Other security companies as F-Secure, AVG and Lookout Mobile Security are also betting on a growing mobile security market, and they hope that one day the mobile security market will become as big as the security market for PCs, said Wood. Most consumers understand how important security as a virus scanner and firewall are when using a PC, he said.

McAfee offers its mobile security software package for $US29.99 for a one-year subscription, and it is also available for BlackBerry and Symbian devices. The company did not immediately reply to a request to comment on any plans to expand the privacy enhancements of its Android product to their Symbian and BlackBerry offerings.

Loek covers all things tech for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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