Smartphone, Dumb Owner? Strengthen Your Mobile Security

By Kevin Tea

With   the growth in the use of smartphones and tablets in the workplace and the increase in personal use for such things as online banking, cybercriminals are turning their nefarious attention to mobile devices. Internet security giant Symantec has revealed that mobile malware variants soared by 54 per cent in 2017 when compared to the previous year.

Operating system fragmentation is a problem, particularly for Android users whose older devices cannot be upgraded to the latest OS versions, leaving them open to attack via downloaded apps. It is estimated that only 20 per cent of Android devices are running the latest software versions. Add to this the problem from “grayware”, highlighted in Symantec’s 2018 Internet Security Threat Report.  Grayware which does not contain malware but 63 per cent of grayware apps leaked system information such as telephone numbers and this sector grew by 20 per cent in 2017. Last November alone, Google found malware apps hiding in the Play Store that were downloaded more than 500,000 times.

As manufacturers and service providers seek to prevent cyberattacks on mobile devices through such methods as two-factor authentication, criminals are actively developing new ways to get vital data from them. One such method is mobile phone subscriber identity theft.

Subscriber Identity Module, or SIM, cards, are external processors that perform the cryptographic security for mobile phones. Essentially a smart card, the SIM chips have two important numbers stored on them at their time of manufacture: The International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) which acts as a username, and the 128-bit Key Identification, or KI, which is essentially a password. If attackers can convince a customer service representative to port those numbers to a new SIM card, all calls and text messages will go to the attacker's phone, while the victim's phone will be disconnected from the network.

Methods used by cybercriminals to hack into mobile are many and varied and increasing in diversity week on week. However, there are some very simple and basic ways that mobile users can project themselves.

1: Keep your software updated. Companies such as Google and Apple regularly update their operating systems, but this is rarely automatic and needs user participation. Android device manufacturers are notoriously slow in providing system updates, but Google is putting pressure on them to increase the frequency and get up to speed.

2: If you use a reputable anti-virus program on your desktop or laptop, you may find that your licence covers you for installing that software on your mobile device. if not, when the subscription is due to run out, do some research for AV providers that allow this multiple device service and keep it up to date.

3: Install a Virtual Private Network (VPN) but avoid free services at all costs. VPNs encrypt your data traffic and hide your location by making it appear as though you are somewhere else in the world. As VPNs route your Internet traffic through multiple routers, this can slow access speeds down, but it is a small price to pay for added security, especially when using public Wi-Fi.

4: Never download applications from third-party sources; always use the authorised Apple or Google store. This doesn’t guarantee malware-free apps (see above) but it does reduce risk.

5: If you can afford it, upgrade to a high-end phone that allows fingerprint access to the phone and sensitive apps. If not, activate the built-in screen lock and use a blocking app that prevents a thief from being able to access your apps and services.

6: Make sure you can locate your device remotely if you lose it or it is stolen. These services allow you to accurately track the location of the device or wipe it clean, removing sensitive information hopefully before cybercriminals can hack the device.

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