Be smart with that phone
This year, 400million smartphones are expected to be sold globally - 400million more opportunities for cyber criminals.
"The number of users of smartphones, currently about 25% of the cellphone market, is increasing exponentially, and more sensitive data is being stored and transmitted on them. So it makes sense that hackers, many of whom are now part of profit-making criminal enterprises, will begin to focus on mobile users," said Dr Khomotso Kganyago, chief security advisor for Microsoft South Africa.
Information is what attracts "cyber crooks" and this, "together with low awareness of cyber security, makes users highly vulnerable," he said.
Cyber criminals have for some time created malware (malicious software) targeting smartphones, but it is appearing more frequently - and with more serious consequences.
In 2004, one of the first smartphone viruses, the Cabir worm, only reduced functionality and attempted to spread itself via Bluetooth, with little permanent damage. But, Kganyago said, smartphone facilities now bring higher risk to privacy, identity and security.
"Businesses allow more consumer devices in their environments and the usage between private and professional is merging, which [greatly] challenges security ," he said.
Mobile-security firm Lookout reported malware and spyware appeared on nine of every 100 phones last year, while in 2009, the number was four in 100.
Cyber crime syndicates, many of which are believed to operate from China and Russia, apparently create new malware as quickly as security technology develops.
Denis Maslennikov, senior malware analyst for virtual security firm Kaspersky Lab, said: "We have seen malicious software for Symbian, Windows Mobile, Android, iOS and Blackberry. Mobile malware is becoming more widespread every year."
He said recent viruses target personal information like the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI), contacts, call logs and SMS messages. "Cyber criminals can cause serious financial damage to smartphone users.
They create Trojan [viruses] which are able to send expensive (R60-R100) SMS messages or can dial international premium rate numbers.
"Other malicious programs can download personal data from smartphones to remote servers of cybercriminals. In September we detected a malicious program which can transmit authentication codes called mTANs, which are used in online banking. A similar attack happened in February."
Dominic White, a consultant with SensePost Information Security, said phishing scams, where users receive e-mails requesting banking details, are less identifiable on smartphones. "There are fewer indicators that the message is a scam due to smaller screens and less verification info would be displayed."
Smartphone users must play smart, said Kganyago.
"Focus on what kind of information you send. Why should a gaming application need access to your contacts, phone calls, locations and SMSes? "
PROTECT YOUR PHONE
- As with a computer, use security applications for your operating systems. Most operators offer free security apps;
- Install software only from trusted sources. Ignore all SMSed spam with suspicious content or URLs. And be careful where you leave your device. Try to keep an eye on it at all times;
- Backup frequently;
- Ensure there is a lock on the device to stop other people using it. Limit how much data is stored on the device;
- Be cautious using open wireless networks.