The number of security attacks reported by mobile phone operators in 2006 jumped fivefold over the year before, according to McAfee.
According to data gleaned from more than 200 mobile operators worldwide, an overwhelming majority of 83 percent said their subscribers have been hit by some kind of mobile device infection.
"This research clearly demonstrates that mobile security is moving quickly up the industry agenda, with the number of malware incidents rising," Victor Kouznetsov, McAfee's senior vice president of mobile security.
Large-scale attacks during 2006 were most likely in Europe, Asia and the Pacific Rim. In those regions, the number of operators reporting incidents that affected more than 1,000 devices doubled during the year.
Operators worry most about the impact of attacks on their reputations and, ultimately, customer satisfaction, the security vendor said. In particular, they worry about the loss of credibility regarding the reliability of new transaction and content-based services such as music downloads that mobile service providers hope will boost revenue. More than 70 percent of the surveyed mobile operators cited that as a top concern.
"As mobile data use and functionality proliferates, security is becoming an essential enabler for the success of new revenue-generating services," said Kouznetsov.
Predictions of widespread mobile device attacks, while made annually by security vendors and analysts, have not yet been borne out. That was backed up by the survey, noting that attacks involving between 1,000 and 100,000 devices accounted for just 15 percent of all reported security events.