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The mobile cybercrime scene: An increasingly familiar sight

Effendy Ibrahim | Feb. 20, 2013
Mobile cyber crime is spreading – how do we stay one step ahead?

"Houston, we have a problem". Astronaut John Swigert used those words to describe a life-threatening fault during the moon flight in 1970. While not exactly of the same magnitude, this phrase also summarises the growing problem we face with the spread of mobile cyber crime in today's connected world. This continues to drive the ongoing efforts by online security experts and vendors around the world to help consumers understand mobile risks and how these risks can impact the security of their personal information.

Most of us have been lucky enough not to be victims of any crime. While we might think that it will never happen to us, the reality is that we are all highly susceptible to crime, albeit of a different nature - mobile cyber crime.

With the Norton Cybercrime Report 2012 finding that one in five Singaporeans had been a victim of social or mobile cyber crime in the past year, there is no better time to draw some parallels between a physical and a digital crime scene. Put on your crime scene investigator hat and you might realise just how vulnerable your mobile devices are to a cyber criminal's attack, and how similar the scene of a break-in is to when your mobile device has been compromised.

Similar in characteristic but not in scale

In the case of house burglaries, break-ins are often the result of a lack of security or misplaced trust. Would-be thieves could gain access via simple lapses in security - a window left unlocked or an unrepaired hole in the fence. They might also pose as people we trust, giving us a false sense of security as we willingly grant them full access to our valuables, not knowing their malicious plans and ulterior motives. Such crime scenes leave little or no trace of any illegal activity. Even the point of entry might be good as new - especially in situations where we ourselves let the thieves in.

What I've just described is exactly what happens in the case of mobile cyber crime. In an increasingly common scheme to undermine mobile security, cyber criminals use fake applications to retrieve sensitive information or exploit security loopholes - leaving little trace of their presence on your device. This has most recently taken the form of fake apps that steal personal information, including contact details and information.

These fake apps, once downloaded, will steal your information and share them directly with cyber criminals. While easy to remove - via uninstalling the app - the damage is done the moment the app is installed. In a recent case, it was estimated that within the first two weeks of a fake app store being set up, up to 450,000 pieces of personal data was stolen from smartphones[1]


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