The concept of mobile security and that the same computer viruses can infect our mobile phones, though, isn’t one that crosses our minds nearly as often.
As cell phones continue to find ways to become more and more useful, so are they increasingly competing with the functionality of the everyday computer.
Just as many of us are comfortable transacting money online, for example, cell phones are inching into the same space in the form of mobile banking.
For instance, Grameen Solutions is working with Obopay to bring banking to 1 billion poor people in Bangladesh who currently don’t have a traditional bank account.
Obopay allows its users to move cash back and forth between bank accounts and credit cards using text messages from cell phones.
Nine out of the top 10 banks in the U.S. offer mobile banking (including Bank of America and Chase) and 27 million U.S. adults have participated in mobile banking activities, according to Javelin Strategy & Research.
But in doing so, that begs one critical question: How secure is it to use your cell phone for the delicate process of digitally moving your money? Moreover, what threats today are jeopardizing the security of mobile banking and what’s out there to combat it?
To get one expert’s perspective, we spoke with Dan Hoffman: the chief technology officer at SMobile Systems, which makes and sells software to combat mobile software attacks.
Obviously Hoffman has stakes in the game, but as the head of the company’s “global threat center,” which monitors the security of mobile devices around the world, he also has a clear window into what’s going on.
Just as anti-virus software and firewalls have become a regular part of our protective computer arsenal, Hoffman believes it’s becoming ever-more critical for mobile users to be just as vigilant with protecting mobile devices. Already, he says, more than 400 mobile viruses and malware have been detected. That number is on the rise, too.
“An increasing number of malware and spyware applications are targeting mobile users and are able to log every key typed, message sent or received and data within mobile banking or trading software. The scary part is almost none of these devices have anti-virus, encryption or other endpoint security tools installed,” Hoffman says.
He adds: “All major mobile platforms have been hacked and are susceptible to malware. There’s spyware that can intercept communications or turn a phone on, too.”
Hoffman says he recently saw a phone running the Symbian operating system that was infected by a keylogger when the user installed what he thought was a game. After the application was installed, every key typed on the phone could be tracked and was secretly uploaded to a server. Hoffman says that information could be used to log into a person’s bank account and fraudulently transfer money.
So what shielding do we have against the growing threat of mobile fraud? That’s where products like those from SMobile, Kaspersky and Trend Micro come in.
Hoffman says his company’s software automatically updates itself as new threats are discovered. Real-time scanning for mobile devices is available, too, and new devices that your handheld syncs with are protected as well.
The human condition, though, often means we don’t protect ourselves until after an emergency has happened. That, according to Hoffman, is the current challenge of the mobile security industry.
“Users just assume their mobile devices have software built in. People don’t think about it, but once it’s brought to their attention and people realize it’s similar to their computer, then the lightbulb goes on,” Hoffman says.
He adds: “Some wait for the emergency and then protect themselves against it after the fact while others use proactive measures. Another threat, though, is what’s happening when you can’t see it.”
Hoffman tags the rise of mobile fraud to the fact that hackers are changing what they attack and why.
“It’s growing because there’s money in it,” Hoffman says. “The threats haven’t gone away. The tactics have changed because the goals have changed. While some hackers do it for fun and tend to be loud, there’s no money in that. Many hackers now want to be anonymous and steal trade secrets and money. Hackers are getting more stealthy.”
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