/ Technology

Mobile malware is the next big threat (apparently)

It’s Get Safe Online week, and this national online security initiative is warning UK mobile users to be on the look out for malware apps. The question is, do you know anyone who’s been hit by mobile malware?

Get Safe Online claims fraudsters are using app stores to entice smartphone users to download rogue apps.

Once you’ve downloaded a malware (short for malicious software) app, fraudsters can take over your phone, make calls, send and intercept text messages and access your personal data. In the latest scam, fraudsters are using malware to send repeated messages to their own premium rate numbers, which in turn could cost you a fortune.

Rik Ferguson, director for Get Safe Online, said:

‘In some instances we’ve seen one [text] being sent every minute. With costs of up to £6 per message, this can be extremely lucrative. The user won’t know this is taking place, even if they happen to be using the device.’

Malware mongering?

I’m not denying the threat of malware. How could I when my email inbox is bulging with press releases about it. And recently, the majority seem to be warning of a virus epidemic hitting mobile phones. Personally, I think it’s time for a reality check.

Our Computing Helpdesk receives hundreds of technical queries from Which? members every week and, to date, we haven’t received one query regarding a mobile virus.

Maybe they ‘don’t know it’s taking place’ as Rik Ferguson argues? However, I’m sure you’d notice the effect of premium rate activity on your telephone bill.

Threat small compared to PC malware

Smartphones are undoubtedly more vulnerable than their ‘dumb’ mobile counterparts. Downloading apps, as with downloading any software, carries a risk as fraudsters can hide ‘rogue-ware’ inside legitimate programs.

It’s this vulnerability that has prompted several security vendors to release mobile versions of their security software. Many of the companies behind these products are the ones who are keen to talk about the ‘growing’ malware threat.

However, I spoke to a spokesperson from antivirus company Symantec, who admitted that ‘in volume terms, [mobile malware] is equivalent to where the PC security threat was in the 1980s’.

But it’s apparently growing fast, with Symantec’s spokesperson describing mobile malware as current, up-to-date and geared towards financial gain. In short, there’s not a lot of it out there, but if you are caught out, keep a close eye on your phone bills and bank account.

Beware security companies that ‘cry wolf’

Helping mobile users stay safe is certainly a good message, but I hope that security companies learn from errors of the past. Some companies shouted so loudly about PC security threats that it led to the explosion of scareware – where cold-callers prey on the fears of unsavvy computer users to sell them bogus security software. I’d hate to see history repeating itself.

Meanwhile, prevention is better than cure. Apple is leading the charge here, insisting that new mobile apps are tested in a secure environment before enjoying a public release. While this may seem heavy-handed to some, it’s definitely a sensible approach.

And although it’s a good idea to think before you download any old app, have you ever actually experienced malware on your smartphone or even know of anyone who has?

Comments
Member

I cannot say that I am surprised. Most of us will download an app without giving it much thought, even if we are careful about what software we install on our computers.

It is one reason that I am not interested in convenient new ways of paying bils with a mobile phone.

I hope mobile malware does not become a big issue but fear it might.

Member

Only an issue with brands that do not have their own internal QA for all apps. ie anything non-apple.

Member

but it seems that one of these apps is indeed related to apple.

Time to update the QA procedures methinks

Member
I Scade says:
6 June 2012

Given the concerns expressed above, Why does WHICH not have a report on security products for mobile devices, ANDROID in particular?