Mobile security threats are heating up

Criminals, security researchers, vendors and even investors are now taking mobile security more seriously.

According to industry analysts, mobile device shipments will exceed a billion devices in 2015 and will rapidly outrun PC shipments. That's great news for end user convenience, mobility, and work-anywhere productivity. But it also means that enterprises must brace for the fact that the bad guys will target these devices with attack exploits, spyware, and rogue applications.

And while IBM's IT security research team, X-Force, predicts a modest 33 software exploits targeting mobile devices in the year ahead, that's roughly twice the number of such attack code released in the past 12 months.

The group also sees a number of other troubling mobile security trends. First, when software flaws do surface, many mobile phone makers do not rapidly deploy software patches to devices; malicious apps are often distributed through third-party app markets. Another troubling trend is that some mobile malware can collect end user's personal information for use in phishing attacks.

An example of vulnerabilities that would make such attacks possible are the two recent Android security flaws that were reported to affect popular handsets including the AT&T Samsung Galaxy SII and various HTC devices.

The security find announced by security researcher Trevor Eckhart, called HTClogger (logging tools introduced by handset maker HTC) that could leak email account information, user location, phone numbers, and messaging logs.

Handset maker HTC said, in a statement, that it is working to quickly issue an update to its customers. "HTC is working very diligently to quickly release a security update that will resolve the issue on affected devices. Following a short testing period by our carrier partners, the patch will be sent over-the-air to customers, who will be notified to download and install it. We urge all users to install the update promptly," the company said.

Last week, the technology blog announced it had found a vulnerability that affects AT&T's Samsung Galaxy SII that consists of a simple workaround that enables anyone to bypass the unlock pattern as well as security PIN.

"It's not that surprising to see all of the attention aimed at mobile devices, by all involved: the security researchers, the bad guys, and security vendors," says Spire Security research director Pete Lindstrom. "The focus of the bad guys will move to the devices being used and vendors will follow."

Apparently, so have investors. Mobile security firm Lookout Mobile Security announced Sept. 21 that it just closed a $40 million funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz, in addition to existing investors Khosla Ventures, Accel Partners and Index Ventures.

George V. Hulme writes about security and technology from his home in Minneapolis. You can also find him tweeting about those topics on Twitter @georgevhulme.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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