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Malware Mobilizes

Denise Culver
12/29/2008

It is not difficult to search the Internet for a Website that attempts to explain away mobile malware by stating that the number of mobile malware attacks ranks significantly behind that of the number of malicious attacks against PCs. However, that is like trying to determine if someone likes fruit by only asking if he eats apples and guava.

PCs have existed much longer than smartphones and are on virtually every business desktop in every country around the world. The emergence of smartphones is, in comparison, quite new. Further, many enterprises still do not provide the funds for their employees to carry smartphones, and many of those that do provide the funds will not allow their smartphone-capable employees to access the Internet or email as freely as on their PCs.

It is no wonder, then, that hackers simply have not found it as financially lucrative to attack smartphones as it is to attack PCs. In fact, Jan Volzke, head of mobile marketing of McAfee Inc. (NYSE: MFE), says that the overall threat level for mobile phones remains significantly below that of the PC. Nevertheless, mobile usage is increasing significantly – with some estimates putting smartphone uptake at more than 30 percent per year over the next five years. And with the increase in smartphone usage, the increase in mobile malware will come.

"We have seen a pickup of mobile application and content consumption," Volzke says. "That’s paired with the emergence of mobile crime ware, hacks on major closed platforms like the Nokia S40, and iPhone/Android vulnerabilities." These are just some of the findings in this month's Unstrung Insider, "Smartphone Security: Solving the Mobile Malware Problem."

Companies analyzed in this report include: Airscanner Mobile Security ; Credant Technologies ; Fortinet Inc. ; F-Secure Corp. ; Kaspersky Lab ; McAfee Inc. (NYSE: MFE); Mobile Armor Inc. ; SMobile Systems ; Sophos plc ; Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC); and Trend Micro Inc.

As the mobile market continues to expand – especially in terms of products offered and how those products are utilized – so, too, will mobile malware threats. In many ways, the mobile market is young, considering that only one year ago the Google Android was a gleam in someone’s eye and the iPhone was having teething pains, says Todd Thiemann, senior director of data protection marketing with Trend Micro.

"That being said, we expect mobile malware to follow the lead of PC-malware by focusing on illicit profits," he says. "We also expect mobile malware to leverage the Web capabilities of recent devices to use the Web as an attack vector. Another threat we expect is a focus on emerging devices, including the Apple iPhone and devices based on Google Android."

It is not a matter of if, but rather of when mobile malware will become as prolific as PC malware. Until that happens, carriers, enterprises, and manufacturers would be well advised to take a lesson from the history books and prepare for what will happen when hackers set their sights on mobile users.

— Denise Culver, Research Analyst, Unstrung Insider




The report, Smartphone Security: Solving the Mobile Malware Problem, is available as part of an annual subscription (12 monthly issues) to Unstrung Insider, priced at $1,595. Individual reports are available for $900. To subscribe, please visit: www.unstrung.com/insider.

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