Mobile malware is "still in its infancy," but key threats come from risky user behavior, like visiting porn sites or downloading unverified apps. And, as the largest mobile platform, Android's vulnerabilities are increasingly being targeted. Those are some of the key takeaways in a new report on mobile security
Online security firm Blue Coat Systems' 2013 Mobile Malware Report is subtitled How Users Drive the Mobile Threat Landscape. As mobile malware increases, the report said, one of the biggest drivers of security problems is user behavior. This includes responding to spam or phishing, or visiting porn sites, where "the risk of finding malicious content is nearly three times as high as any other behavior." User behavior in mobile environments, the report said, is "the Achilles' Heel."
The other user-driven behavior is really a large trend, not specific individual behavior. The "bring your own device," or BYOD, movement is the bane of many IT departments, but the desire on the part of employees to use their own phones, tablets or other mobile devices appears to be a permanent part of the landscape. A recent IDG Global Mobility Study, for instance, found that 70 percent of employees using corporate networks employ a personally owned smartphone or tablet, and 80 percent of employees access their corporate e-mail from personal devices.
'Goes with the Territory'
Laura DiDio, an analyst with Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, noted IT departments are "weary" of BYOD but, with Android being so popular and with employees determined to use their own devices, handling mobile security threats "goes with the territory."
The Blue Coat report noted that mobile threats last year "were a relatively small but growing percentage of overall traffic." It pointed out that "mobile malware that truly breaks the security model of the phone is still in its infancy," with little evidence of such attacks except for some that have targeted the Android platform. In the July to September 2012 period alone, Blue Coat saw a 600 percent increase in Android malware over the same period in 2011.
Employees should be aware that some user-directed attacks might be more successful on a mobile device than they otherwise would, according to the report. It pointed to the example of a grammatically correct, perfectly formatted Paypal phishing e-mail that said suspicious activity had been detected on the user's Paypal account. The e-mail added that the account was blocked until the user verified it by clicking on the enclosed link.
Fake Angry Birds Download
But, as is typical on a mobile device, the link was shortened by a service such as bitly, a user cannot hover over the link to see the true URL, and users expect a mobile Web site, even a fake one that was the target of such a link, to look and act differently than desktop ones. In fact, mobile versions of legitimate Web sites are sometimes hosted by entities other than the actual owner.
Mobile ads are another vulnerability that prey on user behavior. Several other security firms, such as Lookout Mobile Security last July, have noted that some ad providers, while not cybercriminals, are using their ads in free mobile apps to access personal information without the user's notification or consent.
The Blue Coat report said mobile ads were the fourth-ranked threat vector for mobile users, including fake ads offered by cybercriminals. In one example, a fake ad led to a fake Angry Birds download, which delivered a Trojan that sent premium text messages to the malware host, running up a bill without the user's knowledge.