Beware of the dog

Beware of the dog


Mobile security is one of the top issues for phone users in 2012, as smartphones dominate the market and users universally use their devices to access the internet, making them a target for malware. Here, we talk to big dog mobile security expert BullGuard to find out what’s going on.

A survey carried out by BullGuard in June 2011 found that more than half of all British smartphone users do not know they should have security software installed on their device. The research stated that 53% of users claimed that they were unaware of security software for smartphones. A further 21% of those surveyed argued that such protection was unnecessary, and 42% admitted it ‘hadn’t crossed their mind’. The survey also indicated that 49% of users have never been concerned about accessing the internet from a mobile phone, and 32% hadn’t thought about the potential risk.


Meanwhile, 11% of respondents believed it was safer to access the internet from a mobile phone, 31% claimed it was just as safe as a computer, and 26% weren’t sure. A total of 55% of users were unaware that a mobile could get infected by a virus, yet 50% admitted to going online regularly.


Wot no security

“Lack of awareness is the biggest issue and challenge for the industry, regarding security for mobile phones,” comments Guy Meynell, country manager for the UK and Ireland at BullGuard. “Mobile phones are subject to the same threats as computers, but the majority of people are unaware that there even is security designed for mobiles, and of those that do know of the issue, they think ‘I know it’s there, but I’ll take a chance’. People just don’t make the link between smartphones and their computers, even though people are happy to access the internet from their smartphone.”

Meynell claims awareness of the threats inherent on smartphones and feature phones will not arise until a high profile incident occurs involving malware on mobile devices. “Whereas everyone has had something bad happen to them on their computer, no one knows anyone that has had anything happen on their mobile. But the reason for this is the key threat type aimed at mobile phones; spyware,” explains Meynell.

“Spyware was the biggest threat to mobile devices in 2011, however it doesn’t tell you it’s there; the user may never know their phone is infected, it’s a secret thing. It will sit there, steal your data for the people behind it, or take control of your device and make it send texts to premium rate numbers; the owner won’t know anything of the latter until they receive their mobile phone bill. It’s all very low profile, under the radar stuff. We need a big incident to happen to highlight this unfortunately, but it is happening and it will continue to happen in the meantime,” states Meynell.


Tough trends

Trends in the smartphone arena are aiding hackers to get their malware out into the ecosystem. The top three to watch out for 2012 are, according to Meynell: Mobile banking; QR codes; and Android.

On mobile banking, a BullGuard survey announced in May 2011 found that 46% of those surveyed typically store bank or credit card details on a mobile, 70% of people use it to browse the internet, and 60% download applications to enhance the device. Meynell says that this year a lot of banks are optimising their websites for mobile users. “As that changes and moves forward, it’s an area we can expect to see a lot of impact,” he comments, from both the point of view of attraction for hackers, and for interest from end users in protecting their phones from malware.

QR codes, also called 2D codes, are set to become more popular this year as they appear on posters and in magazines. Once scanned in by a mobile phone, the user is taken to a website containing details of a company or a special offer; excellent for marketing departments.

However, in January this year, BullGuard released its most recent survey that showed around half of the 1,200 consumers questioned interacted with a QR code when they saw one, with 21% then going on to share personal information. Curiosity and information gathering were the primary reasons for wanting to scan a code, yet Meynell states that this trend is set to mark the beginning of a new tide of malware scams for 2012. “People should only scan 2D barcodes from a source they trust, or risk being taken to a website that will download malware to their device,” he comments.


Android issues

Finally, Android phones have been rapidly growing in popularity over 2011, and its app market has grown alongside it. However, with the open nature of Android and its unsecured marketplace, Bullguard stated back in mid 2011 that security and the presence of malware on downloaded Android applications in particular highlights the need for improved protection for smartphones.

Regarding the Android app market, Meynell states: “Unsecured platforms such as Android mean you don’t know if an app is from a trusted source or not. It doesn’t take much to become an accredited app developer, and then you can load an app with malware, put it on the Android market, and users download malware straight to their phones.”

In the face of these threats, Meynell says that both businesses and consumers can be targeted for, at the bare minimum, anti virus software for devices. On top of that, the channel can look to sell parental control packages and anti theft solutions. “The potential for growth in this market is absolutely massive. The number of handsets is growing month on month, as is the convergence to smartphones which will dominate this year and take three quarters of the market. There are many great selling points for mobile security, and people need it.”

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