Mobile Malware on the Rise

Carrying around a smartphone is a lot like carrying around a computer. And it’s beginning to come with some of the dangers and security threats that have been known to PC users for years.

Lookout Mobile Security’s recent Mobile Threat Report revealed that mobile malware has increased significantly, with Android users two-and-a-half times as likely to encounter malware today than just six months ago. Lookout estimates that between a half million and one million users were affected by mobile malware in the first half of 2011.

“We’re definitely not at the level of PC-based threats or sophistication level. We expect the sophistication level to increase as we continue on and as mobile becomes more prevalent,” said Alicia DiVittorio, Lookout's marketing director. “Considering the massive attraction to mobile by users around the world, we expect it to become an increasingly bigger target for the attackers.”

Think you’re immune from mobile threats with an iPhone? No so fast.

“Researchers are looking at android more closely, and we see there is malware targeting it at this stage,” DiVittorio said. “The researchers have not found as much malware targeting iOS, but no platform is immune to any security risks. They all have the same inherent vulnerabilities.

The risks of mobile malware and spyware aren’t as high for Apple devices thanks to security restrictions from Apple’s App Store, according to the Mobile Threat Report. This assumes that your device isn’t “jailbroken,” which occurs is when a user alters the phone’s operating system to gain full access (or root access) to the operating system and allow applications not officially vetted by Apple.

All smartphone users (Android or iPhone) can face Web-based threats (phishing scams, drive-by downloads, browser exploits), network threats and physical threats (lost or stolen devices).

There are many tools available to help secure mobile devices. Lookout is one of numerous companies that offers a downloadable mobile security app that scans every app you download to make sure it doesn’t contain malware or spyware. The company also has a premium product that scans every clicked link to make sure it is safe. There is also a program that can help you track down a lost or stolen phone using Google Maps, remotely lock a phone or in the most extreme cases, remotely wipe a phone clean of all data to make sure no one has access to your personal information.

Hackers are finding more and more ways to get into your mobile device, which can contain sensitive data such as addresses, photos and financial information. Still, DiVittorio doesn’t think the fear of intrusion should stop people from using their smartphones to the maximum capability.

“Our goal is to inspire confidence in phones. We want people to use their phones for everything,” she said. “It’s just that everyone needs to take a few precautions to keep all that information safe on their phones.”

About the Author

Cindy Horbrook is content development editor for Security Products magazine.

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