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Mobile phone threats

Ross O. Storey | Sept. 23, 2008
Yes, they could take over your mobile device…without you knowing…

Remember way back when mobile phones were taking over from their analogue dinosaur cousins, and one of the big selling points was that digital phones were rock solid secure and couldnt be tapped? Or maybe Im showing my age, it was, after all back in the 1980s.

Anyway, a recent interview I did, with Sybases Senior Vice President Worldwide Marketing and Business Solutions Operations, Dr Raj Nathan, caused the hairs to stand up on the back of my neck. He outlined a range of threats and attacks that were now actually being mounted against digital mobile phones. Attacks that I thought only happened in the movies.

Dr Nathan acknowledged that the mobile environment was more difficult than PCs to attack, given the nature and variety of the mobile platforms available today. But, and heres the clincher, he said that to date, about 500 signatures or variants have been recorded as attacking mobile devices.

Trojans downloaded by the user, can break your phone, delete your data and even set random passwords to block you from your own content. They can cause your phone to send expensive SMS messages, or to dial expensive premium numbers. Or steal your private information and then send it to third parties. Your mobile device could become a mobile bug.

He warned that Spyware, purchased and downloaded to your device, can even turn your mobile device into a microphone, to bug your calls. They can track messages, emails, phone calls and conversations, and ever report your physical location. And lets not forget how someone could remotely erase your mobile drives some vendors are already offering this feature as a service if you lose your device.

Of course, Dr Nathan was partly using the old strategy of fear marketing to get my attention, you know, how vendors tell you the worst that could happen, but promise they have all the solutions?

But, so much for my confidence in universal mobile device security. I dont think Ill ever so freely use my mobile again, because someone may be out there listening. And Ive only just gotten over being afraid that my mobile was injecting damaging radio waves into my brain.

Dr Nathan said there isnt a lot of research yet that focuses specifically on mobile security threats - Gartner has done some work, but it is primarily focused on laptop computers. Please analysts, study this further, so I can once again feel safe using my mobile communication device.

Ross O. Storey, currently the Managing Editor of Fairfax Business Media Asia, is responsible for the editorial content and production of MIS Asia, CIO Asia, Computerworld Singapore and Computerworld Malaysia magazines.


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