Smartphone Security Gets Scarier


NEW YORK (MainStreet) – As smartphones have become more ubiquitous, so too have viruses and other malware targeting them. According to a new report from McAfee, the problem became much worse in 2010.

“Mobile malware and threats have been around for years, but we must now accept them as part of the mobile landscape,” reads McAfee’s Threats Report for the fourth quarter of 2010. The volume of new malware targeting mobile phones increased 46% in 2010, according to the report.

While threats to mobile devices are nothing new, the spike in their growth during the past few years is largely attributable to the suddenly-widespread use of mobile phones for everything from e-mail to online banking.

“As in most crimes it’s a matter of opportunity, and cybercriminals currently have a window of opportunity to exploit a variety of mobile platforms,” explains the report. “More consumers are using mobile devices and tablets in their daily lives as well as at work.”

So how is malware getting onto our phones?

“The biggest [channel] is through apps that you download,” says Adam Wosotowsky, principal engineer at McAfee Labs. Wosotowsky tells MainStreet that some applications appear to allow you to access your online banking or manage your finances, but in actuality are designed to steal your banking information. He cautions users to make sure the application they’re downloading is actually published by your bank or a trusted personal finance company.

Of course, the major app stores have safeguards in place to keep out these malicious applications. But even Apple, which has a rigorous approval process for its App Store, is vulnerable to letting some bad apps slip through the cracks due to the sheer number of apps that are submitted for approval every day. That’s why Wosotowsky recommends doing your own due diligence before downloading anything to your phone.

“I always read all the [user] comments, and only download ones that have already been downloaded many times,” he says. He also warns against “jailbreaking” your iPhone, which exposes it to a wilderness of applications that have not cleared Apple’s approval process.

As one might expect, mobile malware will continue to increase as more consumers use their phones to transmit sensitive information.

“Now you have a much more capable operating system in your hand that’s basically like a mini-computer – you can use it to connect to Facebook, e-mail and online banking,” says Wosotowsky. “As phones get more complex, the opportunity to make money will increase.”

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