Mobile security incident costs, regional threat differences revealed

Surveys find threat costs run into six-figure losses for many, and that adware is the most pervasive menace

Security incidents involving mobile devices result in six figure losses for many organizations and mobile adware is a pest wherever you are in the world, say two studies released Wednesday.

Depending on the size of company, security incidents involving mobile devices can rack up losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, a survey of nearly 800 IT pros by Dimensions Research and sponsored by Check Point Software Technologies revealed.

More than half (52 percent) the respondents who worked in large companies -- firms with more than 1000 employees -- said mobile security incidents cost their companies more than $500,000.

About 45 percent of the surveyed subjects who worked in smaller companies -- those with less than a 1000 workers -- also experienced six figure losses, more than $100,000, from mobile security incidents last year.

"Those losses could include anything from staff time to fix the problem to legal fees to compliance fines," Check Point's Head of Endpoint Product Marketing, Scott Emo, said in an interview.

"This is not a small problem," he said. "It's a topic security professionals need to address."

Surveyors also found that two-thirds of the respondents (66 percent) felt that careless employees posed a greater security risk to their organizations than did cybercriminals. "They're more concerned with someone losing a cell phone in a cab than they are of cybercriminals hacking into a mobile device," Emo said.

Another finding may explain why careless employees are threats to their employers. More than two-thirds of those polled (67 percent) said their organizations allow personal devices to connect to their corporate networks, and more than half (53 percent) acknowledged that they had sensitive customer information on their mobile devices. Yet nearly two-thirds of those surveyed (63 percent) noted that their organizations did nothing to manage corporate information on mobile devices.

While organizations may dread careless employees more than cybercriminals, byte bandits still pose a threat to their employee's mobile devices wherever in the world those devices may be.

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How those threats vary by global region was the subject of an analysis of platform data gathered by Lookout.

For example, in India there's a high incidence of adware. Adware -- software apps that clandestinely collect information about a mobile phone user without their knowledge -- is a plague everywhere but even more so in India.

"We see that because certain adware families are marketing to app developers in that region," Lookout's Security Product Manager, Jeremy Linden, told CSO.

In the United Kingdom, "chargeware" has become popular among wireless highwaymen. Chargeware are apps that make devious charges to a mobile user's phone bill with little warning.

"We see more in the UK than in other countries because there's a very prevalent family of pornography chargeware there that's spread by spam campaign," Linden said.

Trojans are the dominant mobile malware form in Germany. Mobile Trojans commonly exploit premium SMS services. The Trojan signs up a mobile phone user to one or several of those services without the owner's knowledge.

In the United States, there's a prevalence of "surveilanceware." That may be because surveilanceware has quasi-legal status in the country due to a number of court cases involving spouses spying on spouses, Linden noted.

One region where mobile threats haven't proliferated as widely as others is Japan. "That is due to the fact that premium SMS doesn't exist in Japan," Linden said.

"Japan is interesting because it shows that once you remove a malware author's easy monetization strategy, you remove their incentive to target a region as much," he said

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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