With their numbers increasing rapidly, smartphones are becoming more vulnerable to attacks by cybercriminals, who, looking for prey beyond personal computers, target mobile phones, especially those using the Android operating system, experts say.

“The major mobile platforms have finally become ubiquitous enough to garner the attention of attackers; as such, Symantec expects attacks on these platforms to increase,” says Anand Naik, Symantec Managing Director, Sales, India and SAARC.

McAfee Labs Product Manger Vinoo Thomas expresses a similar view: “With smartphones becoming more powerful and popular, we have seen a lot of threat moving to them from PCs.”

Though the risks to computers have not subsided, malicious software authors are creating mobile-specific malware.

“The number of vulnerabilities in the mobile space is rising, and malware authors not only are reinventing the existing malware for mobile devices but also creating mobile-specific malware geared to the unique mobile opportunities,” Mr. Naik says.

Threats that mobile malware pose include sending premium-rate SMSes, collecting device data, spying on the users, tracking the location of the device, modifying the settings, sending spam and monitoring the device for banking transactions.

As tablets and smartphones continue to outsell PCs and workers bringing in their own devices into the corporate environment, attacks on these platforms will increase apace.

According to Symantec's Internet Security Threat Report XVII, attackers are exploring a shift in focus to mobile devices, whose vulnerabilities increased by 93 per cent last year. And a majority of these threats are targeted at Google's Android operating system.

“In our Global Threats Report for the first quarter of 2012, we saw a large increase in mobile malware. The jump was targeted almost solely at the Android platform. Hundreds of Android threats in the middle of 2011 have moved into the thousands this year. Android threats now reach almost 7,000, with more than 8,000 total mobile malware samples in our database,” says Mr. Thomas.

Although all operating systems are prone to viruses, Android, an open operating system, is more susceptible to attack, experts say.

The open development model of the operating systems facilitates the creation of millions of applications for business, utility and entertainment, but it also provides attackers with an opening to inject into these app stores malicious or ‘Trojan-ised' versions of legitimate apps,” says Mr. Naik.