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Protect yourself against mobile malware in 2012

Mobile phones are increasingly being targeted through SMS messages or as they access the web

Mobile phones are increasingly being targeted through SMS messages or as they access the web. Parents buying smartphones for their children should also be aware of what their offspring can do with them – probably more than you can. If you’re handing over a phone with a limited data plan, note that apps accessing the web on demand can rack up huge bills. Switch off the phone’s GPS function when it’s not needed – this will also extend battery life. And avoid unsecured Wi-Fi networks like the plague.

Recent research by Get Safe Online revealed just how fast smartphone malware is growing. The government-backed body found an 800 percent increase in the number of malware apps aimed at mobiles in just four months.

Dodgy apps often appear in app stores as free versions or updated levels for popular games and apps. Ring tones are another route of attack for malware writers. Once downloaded to your phone, malicious apps might copy your contacts, emails and saved passwords. Some even forward photographs taken by your phone.
An emerging mobile scam secretly sends premium text messages from your phone to a number owned by the fraudster.

Rik Ferguson, director at Get Safe Online and of security research at Trend Micro, explains: “This type of malware is capable of sending a steady stream of text messages to premium-rate numbers – in some instances, we’ve seen a message sent every minute. With costs of up to £6 per message, this can be extremely lucrative. The user won’t know this is taking place, even if they happen to be using the device at the same time.”

mobile malware in 2012

App attack

Another emerging trend for mobile devices is apps that snoop on more information than you realise. Even official apps suck up an extraordinary amount of information from your handset. How safe and well protected this data is depends partly on the apps you install and partly on your faith in the app developer concerned. Always read the details of what the app will have access to.

Research from Kaspersky Labs found large numbers of mobile malware strains offered for sale in official app stores and elsewhere. Many users believe anything they find in the Android Market, for example, is safe. The reality is there are no such guarantees. Kasperksy’s boffins revealed a 30 percent hike in dodgy Android apps and found 34 percent of these had tried to steal users’ personal data.

A big trend next year is likely to be scams that exploit a smartphone’s GPS. As more people use genuine apps with location technologies, the more scammers will follow.

The security industry is starting to take this market seriously, but the scammers are already there. Independent researchers at AV-Test.org looked at free Android antivirus apps and found 90 percent missed known malware strains. Even paid-for apps from vendors such as Kaspersky and F-Secure detected only 50 percent of dodgy software. This is a topic we’ll continue to monitor.

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