Lookout Security wants to eradicate mobile malware before it gets a chance to really take flight. That is not an easy thing to do, but as opposed to malware that plagues PCs, malicious mobile programs are still in their nascent stages. That means the security companies can stay a step ahead and today Lookout is releasing a mobile security API designed to cut mobile malware where it originates - at the point of purchase.
Lookout has made security API for app stores. The new product is called the Mobile Security API and first on board is Verizon's V Cast store for Android apps. Lookout runs the security API and its processes through a cloud, scanning every app that comes into the store against a database of 700,000 apps between iOS and Android across the world looking for abnormalities. End users enjoy the security of the API through the Mobile Threat Network that Lookout has created, checking apps in a back-end server before users download them. The thought is to squeeze the mobile malware ecosystem so tight that there is nowhere for malicious programs to gain access. In doing so, Lookout is staying ahead of the threats, a trait not often seen in security companies.
Lookout believes that security should come in many layers. It is not just on a device or in the cloud, in the browser or the app store. It is layered into all of them. While he Mobile Threat Network brings security to app stores through the API, on the other end, apps are scanned when users download them. Lookout Premium for Android protects users in the browser with its "safe browsing mode."
"Our vision is to eliminate mobile malware across the world," said Kevin Mahaffey, Lookout co-founder and CTO. "There is no silver bullet to security. The vision that we have is that it is important to build security anywhere ... the API allows app stores to be proactive in stopping mobile malware."
To Lookout, mobile malware is not a matter of analyzing malicious programs. It is, in essence, a data problem. Hence, the security API for apps stores is essentially a data-mining tool used by Lookout and shared with partners such as Verizon.
"We think more like Google than a security analysis company," Mahaffey said of Lookout's approach to mobile malware. "We are building a newer type of security company that can scale with the threats."
Scale was the initial problem that security companies found with PCs. The amount of spam leading to malicious downloads became too great too fast for the security companies to keep up. Scale remains a problem in the PC ecosystem. Companies will almost always be a step behind the criminal hackers because there are too many exploits and too many botnets to keep track of all at once. Mobile security is different. Lookout recognizes that it now has an advantage and to keep that advantage it must be able to grow as the problem grows. That is what the API is about.
Yes, zero-day exploits (hacks that take advantage of an unknown vulnerability) will happen and rootkits, bootkits, premium subscription launchers and the like will wash over the mobile ecosystem from time to time. Mahaffey claims that Lookout saw an 85% increase in mobile malware from the first week of the second quarter to the last. The third quarter will probably be worse. Yet, the only serious mobile malware threats in existence now are the GGTracker and lingering derivations of DroidDream that are often caught as soon as they surface.
Can Mahaffey and Lookout along with the other security companies like AVG and Symantec rid the world of mobile malware? The short answer is no. Where there is a rich target, there is a motivation to hack it and smartphones are richer targets every day. But, for once in the history of networked devices, the security companies have the upper hand.
And they plan to keep it.