Mobile security updates 2012

by [Published on 11 July 2012 / Last Updated on 11 July 2012]

This article will focus on how you can improve the security of your mobile devices against new and old threats.

Introduction

The first mobile virus was reported in 2004, a lot has happened since then with the emergence of mobile platforms like Android and iOS devices. Mobile devices are now the PC in your pocket so should we be applying the same level of security to these devices?

Introduction-Past verses Present

Mobile devices today are small powerful mobile PC’s despite their size and appearance; however the devices are fully functional. The mobile device of the past, with its voice and simple text functionality has advanced exponentially. These advancements in mobile computing have presented security risks to become more prevalent and more damaging compared with the first mobile attacks of 2004. There are billions of mobile devices at the moment with at least 2 billion being smart devices. These devices are now the target of malware writers and hackers.

Mobile threats of the past

The first mobile virus appeared in 2004. The virus known as the ‘Cabir Virus’ was the first of its kind. It ran on a mobile device platform and used Bluetooth to replicate. This form of malware caused the mobile device to become partially or totally unusable through draining the mobile’s battery. It’s spreading capability and impact was slow and limited as it was determined by the users physically accepting the installation of the file.

The next malware to follow was a worm. The worm was also able to replicate over Bluetooth spreading from one mobile to another. The worm was able to scan and infect sis-files in the operating system.

In early 2006 the first mobile Trojan appeared. The aim of the Trojan which was able to infect a much larger target was to make money at the cost of the uninformed mobile user. The user was tricked into installing the malware which continuously sent text messages to a premium rate service.

From then new viruses began to appear, including mobile phishing viruses. The new phishing virus sent itself as an email attachment to PC users who would then unknowingly spread it on to mobile phones via SMS gateways. The outcome was the theft of user’s private data without them being aware of it happening.

The phishing virus was shortly followed by spyware in the mobile platform. The purpose being to eavesdrop on the phone user’s activity by collecting uses text data, call logs and private credentials. Users could also be tricked into entering private data into an online service to be used for malicious intent.

These are some of the mobile threats of the past so how does it compare to the mobile threats of today. Personally I have researched malware and it is now possible to send a copy covertly of all or targeted data from a mobile device to an online service for review at a later stage. It is also possible on remote control devices and manipulates the device remotely and records calls and information to and from the device. Things have moved on and in the security world these new attack vectors have become really interesting both from a risk and from a compliance perspective.

Mobile threats of today

One of my sayings is that as technology evolves so do the security threats. The threats of the past are still very prevalent to mobile technology; however so many more new security threats have arisen, with new threats being thought up and developed continuously. The mobile device is an opportunity for malicious attack, in today’s age almost everyone has at least one mobile device. The attack surface area is more significant.

People are complacent when it comes to mobile device security however attacks on mobile devices are very real. Before, attacks on mobile phones remained limited as the PC was a more beneficial target, now that the mobile device is essentially your mobile PC it harbours the full package for attackers. The convenience and functionality that the mobile devices allow us make them a necessity in our lives and thus a great target for attack.

Threats to look out for in 2012

  • Internet connectivity

In the past malware was transferred via Bluetooth, with all mobile devices now connected to the internet, the internet is the potential avenue for invasion. With the vast numbers of devices directly connected to the internet the scope of potential malware attack is huge. The only limitations to the potential malware actions are the malware developer’s imagination and technical capabilities, and the capabilities of the mobile device’s operating system. Thus malware has become more threatening.

  • Banking with mobile devices

Banking once an activity undertaken on the PC is now frequently occurring via mobile devices. As more people gain trust and confidence in mobile banking services it is certain that hackers will concentrate on mobile banking as a route of attack. Already in Europe more than five services have been launched in the UK in the first quarter, with more on the way.

  • Geo-location Tools

Geo-location tools have been becoming more and more popular since 2011. Due to social networking sites and our new busy lifestyles geo-location tools and apps are a ‘necessity’ for many of us. These tools could potentially be a great security threat and concern. Through geo-location at a flick of a finger we are able to determine our location but if we know where we are, the concern is that so do so many others. Geo-location is a very useful tool however with it the threat of increasing the vulnerability of your private information to attacks through phishing and malware is greater. The security threats of the past have now found a new route of entry.

  • Key logging

Malware can be used to log the keys that you type on your mobile device, stored and later scanned for useful information like passwords or credentials used to get into bank accounts etc. New ways are emerging where attackers can record the keys you are typing on your mobile device to access your data.

  • Apps

Our nature to search for the best priced apps on third party app stores could lead to potential disaster. By purchasing apps through reputable stores like Apple and Android stores the security risk is limited, but buying apps through third party vendors you are at risk of purchasing apps which could potentially leave your mobile device vulnerable to infiltrations by viruses or hackers.

  • Permissions or access allowed on your mobile device

Be sure that when running an app on your mobile device you are conscious of the permissions you are agreeing to or the access you are allowing the application to have on your mobile device. Be cautious of Apps that ask permission to your contact details, bank details or personal information. Just be conscious of saying ‘yes’ to everything.

  • Loss of theft of your mobile device

Mobile devices are easily lost, misplaced or stolen. When a mobile device is lost or stolen your mobile device security is definitely at risk. If your device is not properly secured, all you data on the device is at risk, including any corporate data that you may have on your device or any links your device might have with the corporate network, place even more than just the data on the device at serious risk. Mobile device security is a necessity. An app to lock, wipe or locate the device is advised. Also you should ensure that all the data on the device is only accessible though strong authentication.

Steps you could take to improve your mobile device security with these threats in mind

  • To help secure yourself against potential threats arising from geo-location tools ensure that you keep the GPS features on you mobile device turned off at all times unless you are using them. Keep your privacy settings on your social networking sites updated at all times and ensure that access to your private information is limited.
  • Be aware of the potential attacks through key logging. Be conscious of your surroundings and of the applications you install or allow to run on your mobile device.
  • Be aware of apps that could potentially place your mobile device at risk. Only install apps from reputable stores or vendors to reduce the security risk. Be aware of the potential risk at all times and do not become complacent to it.
  • With regards to new apps, always be very cautious of the permissions you allow on your mobile device. If the request seems strange to you rather stay clear of it. Be very careful with permissions surrounding your address book, contacts, bank details and personal information.
  • Ensure that your device is properly secured through passwords and proper authentication. Make sure you are able to remotely lock or wipe the device if necessary and install an app which enables you to locate the device if need be.
  • Secure your mobile device with mobile security software. We should be looking to secure our mobile devices with at least the same level of security, if not more, we would afford our PC.
  • Just be conscious of mobile security at all times, do not become complaisant, as the threat is very real and more detrimental than before.

Conclusion

The types of attacks noted in the past, malware, phishing viruses, spyware, worms and Trojans are still very much part of mobility. The move to have direct internet connectivity to our devices all the time is a well-loved convenience however this places our devices at a level of unconscious risk. Mobile device malware no longer distributes passive files it has transitioned to malware that aggressively distributes itself independently.

The opportunities for us as well as the potential attacker are much greater than before, as so many of us find these mobile devices as a necessity to our daily lives and we essentially carry everything of importance around with us on these devices everywhere we go. The mobile device holds a wealth of data that we need to protect from invasion. As long as we have data that is beneficial to someone, attackers will continue to find a way to control or manipulate it. Evolve your security strategy so that you can protect your valued data.

See Also


The Author — Ricky M. Magalhaes

Ricky M. Magalhaes avatar

Ricky M Magalhaes is an International Information Security architect, working with a myriad of high profile organizations. Ricky has over 16 years of experience in the security arena covering all ten domains including best practice and compliance. Ricky is a strategist on security and innovating creative ways to achieve compliance and mitigate risk, to many blue chip entities and forms part of the advisory boards to many organisations worldwide.