February 16, 2011

Experts Issue Smartphone Security Warning

Security experts are saying that smartphones are the new 'El Dorado' for computer criminals and many owners are unaware of the risk and what to do about it.

Security companies say that as sales of smartphones and tablets have started to outpace those of personal computers, criminals are increasingly targeting the devices.

Many people use their smartphones or tablets to access corporate networks without authorization.

"This is something which is self-evident in the world of PCs," Intel president and chief executive Paul Otellini said at the mobile industry's annual congress in Barcelona.

"We all do something to protect our computers and personal information from hackers," he said. "In mobile computing we need this as well."

The Intel boss said that mobile devices increasingly hold personal and financial information.  He said "I believe, I contend that security is one of the most important features."

A study by major anti-virus software maker AVG found that six percent of U.S. smartphone owners' devices had been infected with malware that was surreptitiously sending out their credit card details.

"The things that people need to be protected from on PCs they now need to be protected from when using their smartphones," Stephen Simpson, consumer products chief at AVG told AFP.

"The threat is not perceived," Simpson said. "There is a perception that smartphones are more secure than they really are."

According to Kaspersky Lab, there are already about 1,000 different pieces of malware circulating on smartphones.

One of the most prevalent is malware that makes the phone make surreptitious calls or send text messages to premium numbers.

The firm's founder, Eugene Kaspersky, said smartphones are becoming an attractive target for criminals as  "there is a lot of money involved, it is an easy job and it is low risk."

A study in four European countries conducted for Kaspersky Lab found that only 12 percent of smartphone owners had installed security software on their devices.

About one-third of people store valuable data like access codes and passwords on their phones and one-third use them for online banking.

He said that when he first attended the Mobile World Congress five years ago most companies could not understand why he came, although this has since started to change.

Kaspersky told AFP that people needed to be educated: "Don't trust everyone, keep your brain on" while using smartphone applications.

He said that smartphone owners will start using anti-virus software as they become victims or someone they know does, and "in a few years 90 percent of people will have anti-malware or mobile security software installed," the same level as for PCs.

Kaspersky Lab said at the Mobile World Congress that a new version of its software supports BlackBerry telephones and smartphones running on the Google-backed Android operating system.

AVG released a free app to protect Android phones like its flagship PC product.

Both programs help users pinpoint phones and remotely lock and widen their memory if necessary.

Open Kernal Labs announced a security suite aimed at the business market.

"Mobile devices are the weak link in corporate networks," said the company's chief executive and founder, Steve Subar.

Employees have bought smartphones and tablets on their own and want to use them for work.  If left unsecured, these connections could cause risks to companies as infected phones could reveal network access codes as well as confidential documents.

Open Kernel's SecurelT Mobile Enterprise allows companies to secure employees' private smartphones.


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