The deluge of new smartphones hitting the shelves is creating a number of new and tempting targets for computer hackers everywhere. Attendants at a prominent Black Hat security conference on Thursday were briefed on a number of new security threats, many of which are especially relevant to users of smartphones and mobile computers.
One of the major reasons why smartphones are such a strong potential target for hacking is due to the shear amount of third-party applications regularly packed onto smartphones. People seem to have no issue downloading and using strange and unknown applications on a regular basis, many of which are able to access personal data that is stored on the phone.
Lookout Mobile Security have conducted a study into a number of smartphone applications, with a total of 300,000 being put under the microscope. What they found is rather worrying, with some programs accessing much more data than users might expect. While many of these unwanted intrusions are simply the unintended side effects of rushed application development, others have been found to have a much more malicious intent.
One application that was sold as a simple ‘wallpaper’ program also sent stored telephone numbers to a Chinese server, and malicious Trojan Horses have also been found in gaming applications. In one situation, hacking was used to force phones into making long distance international calls, where the phone owner was then heavily charged for the privilege.
While security company F-Secure have found this situation to be better than many people think, it is the potential of the problem in future months and years that is worrying a number of security experts. While the number of viruses and malicious code segments on mobile smartphones is still dwarfed by the number on PCs (500 vs 40 million according to F-secure), the incredible increase in the number of smartphones and associated applications on the market is definitely a concern.
The situation with smartphone security is critical right now, and Lookout Mobile Security chief executive has labelled it as “one of the hottest topics there is”. The combination of unsecured third-party applications and sensitive personal data storage is creating a potentially dangerous situation, and it is up to individual smartphone owners to install anti-virus applications and only use third-party applications that they know can be trusted.