Monday, November 7, 2011

Malware makers opt to target mobiles for the big money

For many years now malware authors have discovered that there are rich pickings to be made by infecting people's PCs with trojans and back-door code that offers to harvest key bits of data such as account logins, credit card numbers and online banking data.

Interestingly enough, as PC operating systems become more hardened to such attacks, mobile phones are seemingly becoming more vulnerable and far more attractive targets.

Thanks to the widespread use of two main operating systems (iOS and Android) and a growing appetite amongst users to have the latest and greatest applications, the job of the malware writers has been made somewhat easier than was the case when every phone had its own proprietary environment.

What's more, the increasing power of smartphones has greatly increased the number of people who now use them for activities such as online banking, online purchasing with their credit cards and even mobile payments.

However, if the latest reports are to be believed, the biggest money-spinner for the malware makers is the creation of applications that masquerade as bona fide code while covertly sending of SMS messages to expensive online services. Those services operate very much like an 0900 number and a charge, sometimes quite significant, is levied each time a message is sent to them.

Mobile users who have downloaded malevolent apps can soon find that, with out their knowledge or permission, their phone has racked up huge bills against their account -- or completely depleted the credit on their pre-pay account.

More often than not, the numbers to which the collect SMS calls are made are offshore, therefore the chances of recovering money stolen in this way is remote.

Then of course there are the other trojan apps which simply report on other data passing through the phone, potentially allowing the harvesting of credit card numbers and account logins.

One thing is for sure -- mobile users will have to be come increasingly vigilant when using their phones and, in particular, when downloading applications -- even if they're from approved sources. Already some vendors have had to pull a number of apps from their app stores after it was discovered that they were carrying an unauthorised payload that spied on the user or racked up unexpected bills.

It will be very interesting to see how the industry addresses this increasing problem. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.

In the meantime, my $50 "dumb" phone will be the safest option.

1 comment:

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