Opinion: How Important is Mobile Security?

November 26, 2010

As of now, there are many mobile platforms available on the market. Often we look at one device over another, decide what apps we like and want and decide what to buy. Most consumers do not think about security of their phones. This is a major fail on both the part of the consumer, the salesman, and it goes all the way to the phone manufacturer(s) and carrier(s). Why may you ask?

I predict we will see security vulnerabilities exposed in mobile OS’es and more worms/malware/spyware/viruses increase over the next 5 years. With the increase of sales of smartphones over the past 5 years (with the “explosion” occuring over the past 3 years with introduction of iPhone), it is inevitable for hackers begin to look to mobile phones and viruses to be created. Here is one example: This year one virus has made its way onto Windows Mobile based devices. The infections came in the form of an app called 3D Anti Terrorist game. This virus infected many Windows Mobile Phones across the globe. The virus was a Robo-dialer, where it would call random international calls, ringing up a huge tab on your phone bill.

I have not come across reports that any user information was stolen because of this specific worm/virus. This may seem harmless, but the threat is credible and the need for mobile security should be pushed harder. Companies like ESET, Symantec, Kaspersky Lab, and Lookout Mobile Security (topic of previous post), all provide solutions to protect your content. The interesting thing is that this virus mentioned managed to find its way onto legitimate app stores like Handango, and other Windows Mobile based app sites. This could have been more widespread but swift action on the net caused this app to quickly be taken down (not to mention Windows Mobile is a declining platform). Of course, it has been mirrored and hosted on other sites. The point though is the idea that viruses can be disguised as legitimate apps and without proper knowledge and research you can become the victim.

Looking at another case, we will be looking at a whole platform. Symbian is the #1 platform in the world. If you have not heard about it, don’t worry since it has a tiny marketshare in the USA. Worldwide it is about 50% of the market. To make a connection, Windows OS is the #1 computer OS in the world. These two share in common the fact they are both the top targets of hackers and viruses. Symbian Platform is secure in its coding, as is Windows. What makes these less secure than its competitors is the fact that these platforms are constantly being attacked by hackers and the hackers work on these platforms the most to steal the most amount of information from users.

With the increased app usage and popularity of platforms like iOS and Android, online stores should be aware of these threats. It would be easy for them to pull an app off its digital shelf but it only takes a few minutes for millions of devices to be infected. Another concern would be the dependent usage of “cloud computing” and online backup and data storage. iPhones, and Windows Phone 7 devices, among others, tie their services to the internet for information to be accessible anywhere and from any web-enabled device. These services can be easily synced with your home computer. These viruses will target phone devices, but the virus can be smart enough to penetrate the internet based services, therefore infecting your phone, computer, and other devices. The increased threats can only mean that there should be a push toward mobile security. I believe device manufacturers should bundle mobile security (like PC manufacturers do with computers) and the sales people should talk about importance of mobile security. Unfortunately, wireless sales people are not really computer sales people. These smartphones are essentially computers. What consumers need to know is that firmware updates are not enough to be protected.I strongly suggest for users to look at their designated app stores and search the web for security software. It is well worth every penny to know your device is secure and it is never too early to begin protecting your device. My personal device has security running on it and I feel better knowing I can surf the web more safely. Users should put the same care into their mobile device as they do with their PCs.

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