Thirty-five percent of all US adults have smartphones. The convenience and pleasure of these gadgets will keep that number growing, but there is one disadvantage that should give consumers pause: Though 70% of smartphone owners believe they are safe from hackers, not one of the 96 million and counting smartphones out there is completely safe from such threats. And that danger will only grow in 2012, which is forecast to set records for cyber attacks against mobile devices.
Because there are now so many smartphones — packed with such lucrative personal information as banking and shopping data and email — that are relatively unprotected, more criminals are on the virtual prowl.
Like their brick-and-mortar counterparts, mobile cyber crooks haunt the areas that have the equivalent of dimmer lights and fewer security guards, which for now is Google‘s Android operating system, mainly because it runs on an open platform that is more vulnerable to malware. Lookout Mobile Security reports that the annual risk of a malware attack on an Android device has risen from 1% in January 2011 to 4% now.
The malware targeting the Android, as well as all other platforms, includes banking Trojans that can steal money from your bank account, text-message hijacking which leaves you with the bill for messages you never sent, and spyware that grabs personal information for identity theft or to just let old-school crooks know when you’re away from home.
What can you do to bar your platform from these threats?
Though the first security software for smartphones was just recently launched, experts are saying you don’t necessarily need it now to stay safe. (Fewer than 5% of smartphones and tablets have security software.) Just keeping your door locked may be fine. In other words, the usual common sense procedures of a strong password, encryption, relying on the major apps from major stores, and using the latest operating platforms should be enough for now.
But if you want greater security, Intel subsidiary McAfee is developing software that alerts you to threats in permissions that an app requests from your device. More promising, the IT press reports that LG Electronics and Samsung may introduce a smartphone at this year’s International CES show that runs on Intel’s Atom chip — and would be open to McAfee security software — instead of the ARM-based chip that now powers 95% of smartphones.
A strong password and other measures may be sufficient in early 2012, but no doubt the crooks targeting mobile devices will use their dark ingenuity to get past such virtual deadbolts. Growing along with them will be the new industry of mobile security software, which is predicted to become a $3.7 billion market by 2016.