Smart Consumer: How your smartphone is at risk of an app attack
Published 18/11/2010 | 05:00
If you've written your wish list for Santa, chances are a smartphone is on it. Whether it's an iPhone, Blackberry or Android's version, each is a desirable piece of kit.
Emailing, web browsing, updating your Facebook page, downloading apps and a lot more; a smartphone is a computer and social networking tool in your pocket. And like your computer it holds a lot of your personal data, so how do you keep it safe?
Dermot Williams, MD of IT-security specialists Threatscape, explains your smartphone could contain confidential data and your credit-card details, so you have to worry about people getting their hands on it.
Plus if you keep your social networking page open, anyone could update your status with something malicious.
"You wouldn't leave your wallet unattended on a bar counter," says Williams, "so why would you leave your smartphone there when it's just as valuable?"
Whatever about someone accessing your data, could your phone be open to a virus in the same way your computer is?
"Yes, the threat is real," says CEO of IT service providers Smarttech, Ronan Murphy. "Hackers are well-funded and smart and they will go where the masses go. Right now that's mobile phones, which is the fastest growing platform where people keep sensitive data."
The first virus appeared in 2004 and was delivered to PDA devices over Bluetooth, says Murphy. "The virus drained the battery and it was done for fun more than anything, but now hackers are more sinister."
According to Murphy, the first Trojan virus for android phones appeared in August. A buyer registered for a media player but unknown to them, there was a Trojan virus installed that started sending premium rate texts. Their account paid up and the hackers collected the money.
The same thing can happen when registering for a game or app so it is crucial to know who you are doing business with.
'Apple say you cannot get a virus on their phone," says Murphy, "but the problem is that many people who use iPhones 'jailbreak' so that they can access apps outside of the tightly controlled Apple store.
"Once you 'jailbreak' you are opening your iPhone up to potential viruses, and if you 'jailbreak' Apple will not recognise your phone any more. In September there were seven billion app downloads, so the scale for potential risk is huge."
According to a report in last week's Shanghai Daily a 'zombie' virus disguised as an anti-virus app infected more than one million smartphone users.
Spamming the phones with money-making links has netted the hackers up to $300,000 a day in added text-message charges for the users affected.
The bad news is that if the worst happens, your smartphone's operating system will need to be wiped and re-loaded.
Williams says that the "security software for phones is not as sophisticated yet as that for computers as they don't need to be", but he adds "when it is needed the software will be there".
The good news is that if you operate a decent level of common sense, all should be fine.