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03 December 2012

4 mobile phone security threats you need to know about

Imagine that your body is being targeted by 75 million viruses. That is exactly what's happening to digital devices at any given moment. And smartphones and tablets are being targeted in record numbers.

Android has become the most popular platform for new malware. According to McAfee's Second Quarter Threats Report, this operating system was targeted exclusively by all new forms of mobile malware. The Symbian OS (for Nokia handsets) remains the platform with the all-time greatest number of viruses, but Android has taken its place as the main target for hackers today.

Given the rise of mobile malware, it's a good idea to stay current on security threats, four of which are unique threat to mobile devices:

1) QR code scams — QR code attacks are relatively new. A QR scam works because, as with a shortened URL, the link destination is obscured by the link itself. Once scanned, a QR code may link to a malicious website or download an unwanted application or mobile virus. For this reason, it's a good idea for mobile users to refrain from clicking QR codes from unfamiliar sources, and stick to codes provided by known advertisers or vendors, which are the least likely to be infected.

2) SMiShing — This is the mobile version of phishing (the term is short for "short message service phishing," or "SMS phishing." Rather than email, SMishing scammers send text messages, which appear to have come from a legitimate, trusted organization. The message will ask the mobile user to click on a link or provide credentials in a text message reply. Once you understand how it works, you are better positioned to recognize SMiShing, and to avoid clicking links within text messages or otherwise responding to such ruses.

3) Jailbreaking or rooting — "Jailbreaking" an iPhone or iPad is the process of removing the limitations on the device's operating system imposed by Apple and mobile carriers. This allows the phone's user to gain full access to the iOS and all of its features. Similar to jailbreaking, "rooting" involves the process of removing the limitations on a mobile or tablet running the Android operating system.

Jailbroken and rooted phones are much more susceptible to viruses and malware because users can download apps that have not been through the vetting processes used by Apple and Google to help ensure that users download virus-free apps.

4) Premium SMS fraud — McAfee Labs reports that one of the simplest ways to profit from malware attacks on mobile devices is to place a call or send a text to a pay-for premium number. If this activity is infrequent (for example, only once a week at night) and concealed (by erasing the log and using the hiding capabilities of a rootkit), then it may go unnoticed for a long time.

The key property to this malware's popularity is the software's ability to covertly send messages. In this case, Android is more risky than iOS because in Android, permissions are assigned once at installation and cannot be dynamically controlled.

Expect more scams and more scam warnings directed toward mobile devices going forward. As mobile cybercrime evolves and criminals begin to make some money, they will have the resources to hire crackerjack programmers to do their deeds. 

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