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Do mobile devices pose less security risk than computers?

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April 6, 2009

On average, security has been a fairly important subject of computer networking since viruses and malware showed up their ugly faces a number of years ago. Overall, computer security has evolved into its own industry, while new viruses are created almost every day. In deed, the battle appears to be endless.

The new generation of smartphones are becoming more similar to handheld computers than they are to traditional phones. Soon we are going to see the history of computer security repeating itself in the mobile world.

But throughout the history of IT security, we haven’t witnessed major attacks coming from or targeted at mobile devices, least not yet. So the question is, should we wait for a major mobile network attack to make its security a top priority?

There are many and newer trends contributing to the dramatic change that the role of mobile communication has in our lives. Mobile devices have evolved from single-purpose, voice-specific devices to functional mobile multimedia centers delivering a wide range of Web services.

Mobile devices now can become as susceptible to the same threats as those in the computer world, which is under attack a lot more than the public generally realizes, with some attacks not reported for reasons of negative publicity or some other reason.

MIDs (Mobile Internet Devices) will soon dominate in both developed and underdeveloped nations. History has already demonstrated that where data services exist, so too does the potential for security attacks such as theft of service, impersonation and DoS (denial of service) attacks.

The second trend is called open mobile. More and more mobile devices have an open operating system and an open platform (such as Android and Symbian) and open access to Internet resources will become a reality.

From a security standpoint, this trend requires very careful consideration and adequate security solutions, including strong authentication capabilities on both the device and user levels.

The third trend is ever-changing end-user behavior, as social networking, blogging, personalized services and massive usage of the Internet via mobile phones becomes commonplace. Mobile can shortly become the predominant interactive media platform.

All these new trends, coupled with the mobile networks move to all-IP open multi-service converged IP, will inevitably bring new and complex security challenges. Signaling networks and applications will become key communications targets for attacks, and operators should implement corresponding security protection.

A recent Infonetics research report entitled “Security Appliances and Software for Mobile Networks Market Outlook” suggests that “last year has seen some dramatic increases in mobile threat activity with a more than 400 percent growth in the number of Trojans and viruses seen in the wild for Symbian and the Windows Mobile platform alone.”

These new end-user patterns will undoubtedly drive operator revenue, but mobile operators must be aware of the need for comprehensive network security in order to enable new revenue-generating services.

The subject of mobile network security within the relevant organizations has been put on the backburner and this is what's all about, even as many diverse and credible sources have attempted to draw attention to the matter.

For instance, three years ago The New York Times published an article stating that hackers could take control of iPhones through Wi-Fi connection or by tricking users into websites that contains malicious code.

So, in taking all these various challenges into consideration, what methods and strategies are you considering to secure your mobile network?

How can we move the topic of mobile security from the backburner to the front line before it’s too late? Well the secret lies in being proactive and more vigilant towards all aspects of security.

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Source: Message Labs.

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