Cyber Criminals Target a New Weak Spot: Mobile Devices

Cyber Criminals Target a New Weak Spot: Mobile Devices

With today’s technology advancing at what seems like light speed, parasitic hackers are easily moving as fast – or faster. Security and adware breaches have been prominent in the news lately, like the recent Twitter hack after the Boston bombings that falsely reported a disaster at the White House, and the high-profile cyber attacks on Facebook and Apple (News Alert). Now, as smartphones and tablets have become commonplace, mobile devices are the new targets for cyber criminals.

Mobile hacking is a trend that has taken the virtual world by storm in the past year. In 2012, the incidence of mobile malware, software intended to damage a computer, went up 163 percent from the year before, according to NQ Mobile (NewsAlert), a global provider of mobile Internet services. An estimated 32.8 million Android devices were infected by mobile malware, commonly through phishing, a bad link in an e-mail or a link that directs to a malicious site. This phenomenon is fairly new, with an estimated 95 percent of all mobile malware just created in the past year.

Why the rise of mobile hacking now? Well, smartphones keep getting smarter and more prolific, and so do cyber criminals. Tech-savvy consumers are increasingly using their smartphones for everyday activities like entering bank account information through an app, checking e-mail, and social networking, and hackers are realizing that unprotected mobile devices are a new, rich breeding ground for sneakily retrieving sensitive information. Mobile devices are insecure territory and aren’t necessarily protected when connecting to a wireless network, making them easy targets.

Furthermore, with smaller screens it is easier for consumers to mistake a fake website for a real one, and as of yet, mobile hacking hasn’t been a real threat on many people’s radar. However, the danger is quickly gaining attention. The three most common types of mobile hacking occur through email communication, when sending sensitive business data and files, and during online payments.

Cyber criminals are constantly using updated technology in their attacks. The number of suspicious URLs online spiked up in late 2012, to nearly five million a month, and now, it’s not even necessary to download anything for malware to infect your device. Unlike malware of the 1990s, the computer may not show any signs of being slowed down or less effective, while a virus could be sending crucial information back to the cyber criminal’s nest all the while. This makes malware very dangerous and hard to catch.

And cyber criminals are seemingly acting in unison, often with high-level hackers selling bank account information to their virtual accomplices, who then use that information to enact money transfers or other suspicious activity. The threat level for mobile hacking has escalated so quickly that the Obama administration released a 150-page report in February to address the urgency of increasing virtual security measures for the government, corporations and consumers alike. There are even suspicions that the Chinese government has been sponsoring virtual spying on U.S.-based companies, an accusation the Chinese ministry denies. The bottom line is that the cyber threat to sensitive information is more serious than most consumers and companies realize, Attorney General Eric Holder said.

With cyber crime rates jumping through the roof, the Justice Department is cracking down and urging companies to increase their security and ads removal measures, but in this scenario, the hackers may be ahead of the game – for now. McAfee’s (News Alert) chief technology officer Mike Fey calls for a need to rethink how companies are combating cyber threats. Rather than a never-ending game of defense, Fey calls for a new way of designing products with built-in protective mechanisms.

Cybersecurity is still in its infancy, according to Chris Boyer, vice president of public policy at AT&T (News Alert), which means that for now, hackers may have the upper hand, but there is still a lot to be discovered in the world of virtual security. Wireless networks, for instance, do not encrypt a lot of the data that passes through, but this is a weak spot that is being improved, Boyer said. The good news is that now that the threat has been detected, experts in the cybersecurity industry are reporting diligent efforts to improve the situation.

And as for consumers, simply informing yourself as to how to protect your identity and information on your wireless device, whether it’s at your desk or in your pocket, can go a long way in staying safe from virtual swindlers. While wireless companies and mobile developers are designing new ways to keep hackers out, you can stay smart on your smartphone: don’t reveal sensitive information through e-mail to anyone you don’t know, always check the link before entering information and never download anything that seems suspicious.

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Daniel Sadakov has a degree in Information Technology and specializes in web and mobile cyber security. He harbors a strong detestation for anything and everything malicious and has committed his resources and time to battling all manners of web and mobile threats. He is a contributar at tripwire.com, a website dedicated to covering the top security stories and providing useful tips for the everyday and expert users.