Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How Secure is Your Smartphone or Mobile Device?

The growing popularity of smartphones and mobile devices has made them attractive to purveyors of malicious software. McAffee reports a 46 percent increase in mobile device malware threats since 2010 (International Business Times, 2011). But, according to a report published by the Georgia Tech Information Security Center and the Georgia Tech Research Institute, these threats have been particularly concerning for colleges where attacks on smart phones and related mobile devices have been on the increase (Rice, 2011).

Why Smart phones are vulnerable

There are a number of reasons that smart phones are particularly vulnerable to cyber threats. Dmitri Alperovitch, independent security expert and former vice president of Threat Research at McAfee states, “Mobile phones represent a physical part of your identity. They know and can share your location, can take photos and record videos (Ahamad and Rotoloni 2011:4).” So if an attacker is able to gain access to and remotely control one’s mobile device he or she can use the phone to record private conservations, take photos, retrieve financial information and much more. Reviewing the permissions of many mobile apps for android phones reveals that many popular services request permission to control the phone settings, retrieve information, take photos etc. These types of applications while popular, potentially compromise the security of android mobile devices.

A related concern for smartphone users is the small screen size of these devices which prevents the user from being able to completely view/review website addresses. Specifically, visual cues which are present in web addresses are often missing from small screens where address bars are quickly removed to optimize viewing capacity. Users may thus inadvertently click on a link that exposes their systems to malware (Rice, 2011).

Additionally, according to the Georgia Tech Report, mobile applications are also browser dependent, making them more vulnerable to increasing web based attacks. Malware targeted toward mobile devices, particularly through web browser based attacks, may be used to compile extensive databases of information on users including their name, address, gender, location, financial status, spending habits and so on.

What is being done generally to protect mobile devices

Currently encapsulation and data encryption processes are preferred methods of securing mobile devices. There are also discussions of biometric security measures such as photo recognition and iris recognition applications that take advantage of features commonly present in mobile devices Ahamad and Rotoloni (2011).

The smartphone security software market is also expected to expand by almost $3 billion dollars by 2017 providing additional options to users seeking to secure their devices (Chapman, 2011). In the meantime, proactivity will be the order of the day to ensure the security of your mobile device.

What you can do to protect your Mobile Device?

Some general tips to help you protect the security of your smartphone or mobile device include the following:

1. The first thing to do is to make sure that you have security/anti-virus software installed on your mobile device. Some good options include:

Kaspersky Mobile Security

McAffee Mobile Security

Webroot Secure Anywhere

Trend Micro Mobile Security

2. Check the permissions you must accept to download apps from the android market avoiding those which provide autonomous access to the features of your mobile device. In this regard it is best to remember that a smart phone (and related mobile device) is a personal computer. Treating them as such from a security perspective makes sense if you wish to protect your personal information. If you would not give a stranger access to your home or personal computer then you don’t want to give him or her inappropriate access to your smartphone (tablet, etc.).

3. If you use Wi-Fi only use access encrypted or firewall protected Wi-Fi___33 hotspots.

4. Avoid using your mobile devices for financial transactions, particularly if you are using an unsecured Wi-Fi___33 Hotspot.


Ahamad, M and Rotoloni, B. (2011). Emerging Cyber Threats Report 2010. Georgia Tech. Information Security Center and the Georgia Tech Research Institute. Retrieved from http://www.gtisc.gatech.edu/doc/emerging_cyber_threats_report2012.pdf.

Chapman, P. (2011). Smartphone security software market set to grow to $3 billion: companiesandmarkets.com. Retrieved from http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20110621005846/en/Smartphone-security-software-market-set-grow-3.

International Business Times (IBS) (2011). Top Ten Security Software for Smartphones and Mobile Devices. Retrieved from http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/110931/20110210/mobile-security-malware-virus-attack-smartphone-android-mobile-device-symbian-ios-windows.htm.

Rice, A. (2011). Smartphones Present Growing Security Problems on Campus, Report Says. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/smartphones-present-growing-security-problems-on-campus-report-says/33627.

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