Laura Barnes asks security experts about the dangers of leaving your smartphone or tablet vulnerable to malware, and investigates why demand for mobile security software is on the up…
For many, it has never crossed their minds to buy security software for their tablet or smartphone. But with a number of bugs, attacks and hacks hitting the headlines recently it seems your beloved mobile device may just be as vulnerable to malware and viruses as your PC is.
Earlier this year, researchers at Bluebox Labs discovered a flaw in Google’s Android security model that could enable rogue apps to turn legitimate apps into malicious Trojans. The firm claimed that the flaw could allow 99 per cent of devices to hacked.
Around the same time, Norton flagged up the official Android Facebook app for leaking device phone numbers without users’ permission.
Stefan Wesche, a technical expert at Norton, explained: “Mobile malware for Android has been on the rise for a while now and the trend is continuing in 2013, with roughly 320,000 malware variants for Android now in existence.”
Although the Android platform is being hit pretty hard, a recent report from McAfee claims that while malware on iOS is relatively low compared to other operating systems, it’s still there and will continue to increase.
With all this in the news, it seems consumers are starting to become more wary about leaving their mobile devices unprotected.
Dominic Ashford, account manager at GfK, told PCR: “The sales volume of boxed security software enabled for smartphones and tablets sold in the first half of 2013 grew by 316 per cent compared to the first half of 2012.”
"Even though sales of boxed security software are rising rapidly, some independent retailers are still finding it hard to justify stocking it."
“I believe there is no real threat to mobile devices right now,” said Gavin Holder from GHI Computers.
“That said, I also know that could all change following a massive virus or Trojan targeted at Android or iOS.”
Kim Hayton, manager at indie store Triarom, told PCR that she simply doesn’t get customers with malware problems on their devices: “We don’t sell antivirus products just for mobile devices. If something like malware gets onto a tablet, it’s so easy to factory reset it. It’s not like a PC – that would be a nightmare. By using a tablet’s factory reset setting, in ten to 15 minutes you can be up and running again.”
Those that own an iPhone or iPad might be inclined to take their chances, while the risk seems relatively low.
But it seems this increase in sales of mobile security software might not actually be for its virus-detecting abilities.
With mobile devices holding a lot of our personal data, including contacts, photographs, access to email and social networks, and even banking details, the thought of losing a smartphone or having it stolen is enough to strike fear into the hearts of most consumers.
“If a device is lost or stolen the finder or thief has easy access to a big pool of personal data and services on the device,” explained Wesche.
“This data or those services can be misused in a number of ways for example blackmailing, impostering, to gain access to other services or to complete transactions on the user’s behalf. To avoid all this and to lock, find or even wipe the device when lost or stolen, a security software product is needed.”
As well as having the right kind of security software, there are things consumers can do to reduce the risks of hacks and malware attacks on their mobile devices. This includes keeping Wi-Fi and Bluetooth disabled when not in use and not using public Wi-Fi to do any online shopping or transactions.
“It is relatively easy to ‘eavesdrop’ in a public Wi-Fi data stream,” commented Wesche.
Armando Orozco, malware analyst at Malwarebytes, also suggests sticking to trusted sources when downloading apps: “Stick to Google Play or Apple’s App Store. Review apps before installing and consider what they have access to."