Mobile threats: the top 12 scams of Christmas list

McAfee's annual list warns about malware targeting Android device and Apple computers.

Malware targeting Android-powered mobile devices and Apple computers top a list scams and security threats the people need to guard against this holiday shopping season.

McAfee has released its annual 12 scams of Christmas list, warning of a 76 percent increase in malware targeting Android devices in the second quarter of 2011 over the first, including those that target QR codes, which many shoppers will be using to purchase or get information about products.

Malicious mobile apps are another new threat on the list. This is the first year that McAfee’s list raised the red flag about threats to mobile devices specifically. The 2010 edition focused on such Web and e-mail scams like offers for a free iPad, and the vulnerabilities of public WiFi networks.

McAfee says free mobile apps masquerading as games or other fun applications may actually be designed to steal information from smartphones or send out text messages without the user's consent. It points to a wallpaper app that surreptitiously sent user data to a site in China -- that app was downloaded 4.6 million times.

Macs under threat, too

Another relatively new threat making McAfee's list is malware that targets Macs.

"Until recently, Mac users felt pretty insulated from online security threats, since most were targeted at PCs," McAfee employee Gary Davis wrote in a blog post announcing the list. "But with the growing popularity of Apple products, for both business and personal use, cybercriminals have designed a new wave of malware directed squarely at Mac users."

McAfee Labs reports that 5,000 pieces of malware targeted Macs in late 2010, and that number increases by 10 percent each month.

Back for more

A number of scams have returned or mutated from previous years. McAfee warns of more phony Facebook promotions and contests, including a new one that offers two free airline tickets. Malicious holiday screensavers, ringtones and e-cards continue to be circulated, as do online coupon and mystery shopper scams that try to extract personal information.

This year's crop of phishing scams may also be familiar, with fake requests for personal information purporting to be from banks, and a clever one that uses a phony notice from UPS. Fake requests for information sent via text message also remain a concern from last year's list.

Staying safe

McAfee's intentions in putting out the list aren't entirely altruistic, of course. Trotting out these digital bogeymen is great for its antivirus business. Naturally it offers up its security software as one way to avoid some of the digital holiday pitfalls.

There are a few other common sense tips worth heeding in the meantime, like only downloading mobile apps from the official app stores, like the Android Market.

Always watch out for deals that seem too good to be true or require some of your private information to participate in a promotion.

Only friending people on social networks that we actually know and trust and not posting pictures from vacations until you're back home is another piece of security advice that few people seem to follow.

There's also plenty of security software packages out there that can help protect all your systems from malware and more. Lookout Mobile Security makes a great package for Android devices, and AVG's free antivirus continues to be a popular way to protect PCs.

Follow Eric on Twitter, and at ericmack.org. Follow PCWorld on Twitter, too.

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Tags online securityApplemcafeesecurityshoppingholiday seasonantivirusmalware

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