Like viruses and spyware that can infect your PC, there are a variety of security threats that can affect mobile devices. We divide these mobile threats into several categories: application-based threats, web-based threats, network-based threats and physical threats.
Downloadable applications can present many types of security issues for mobile devices. “Malicious apps” may look fine on a download site, but they are specifically designed to commit fraud. Even some legitimate software can be exploited for fraudulent purposes. Application-based threats generally fit into one or more of the following categories:
- Malware is software that performs malicious actions while installed on your phone. Without your knowledge, malware can make charges to your phone bill, send unsolicited messages to your contact list, or give an attacker control over your device.
- Spyware is designed to collect or use private data without your knowledge or approval. Data commonly targeted by spyware includes phone call history, text messages, user location, browser history, contact list, email, and private photos. This stolen information could be used for identity theft or financial fraud.
- Privacy Threats may be caused by applications that are not necessarily malicious, but gather or use sensitive information (e.g., location, contact lists, personally identifiable information) that is necessary to perform their function.
- Vulnerable Applications are apps that contain flaws which can be exploited for malicious purposes. Such vulnerabilities allow an attacker to access sensitive information, perform undesirable actions, stop a service from functioning correctly, or download apps to your device without your knowledge.
Because mobile devices are constantly connected to the Internet and frequently used to access web-based services, web-based threats pose persistent issues for mobile devices:
- Phishing Scams use email, text messages, Facebook, and Twitter to send you links to websites that are designed to trick you into providing information like passwords or account numbers. Often these messages and sites are very difficult to distinguish from those of your bank or other legitimate sources.
- Drive-By Downloads can automatically download an application when you visit a web page. In some cases, you must take action to open the downloaded application, while in other cases the application can start automatically.
- Browser exploits take advantage of vulnerabilities in your mobile web browser or software launched by the browser such as a Flash player, PDF reader, or image viewer. Simply by visiting an unsafe web page, you can trigger a browser exploit that can install malware or perform other actions on your device.
Mobile devices typically support cellular networks as well as local wireless networks (WiFi, Bluetooth). Both of these types of networks can host different classes of threats:
- Network exploits take advantage of flaws in the mobile operating system or other software that operates on local or cellular networks. Once connected, they can install malware on your phone without your knowledge.
- Wi-Fi Sniffing intercepts data as it is traveling through the air between the device and the WiFi access point. Many applications and web pages do not use proper security measures, sending unencrypted data across the network that can be easily read by someone who is grabbing data as it travels.
Mobile devices are small, valuable and we carry them everywhere with us, so their physical security is also an important consideration.
Lost or Stolen Devices are one of the most prevalent mobile threats. The mobile device is valuable not only because the hardware itself can be re-sold on the black market, but more importantly because of the sensitive personal and organization information it may contain.