Security concerns for smart phones and tablets grow

New operating systems and platforms like tablets and smart phones instead of Windows-based PCs are now being targeted by cybercriminals, according to a report by Cisco Systems Inc.

Spam messages in Canada increased from 17,000 per capita in 2009 to 35,000 per capita in 2010, according to Cisco.

“We’ve seen steady growth of spam over the years,” said Henry Stern, senior security researcher at Cisco.

However, lately spam and cybercrimes targeted at Windows PC are declining. The decrease in spam is largely because of police, according to Stern. For example, when police shut down, a big financial backer for hackers and spam agents, spam plummeted overnight.

“There are some Trojans for Mac, but it’s not a large enough target yet,” Stern said.

There are already instances of smart phones being hacked. iPhones were unlocked and activated when consumers installed jailbreak software on the phones. After installing these hacking programs, a hacker could then redirect it. Recently, there were also applications stealing address books and a malicious app on Android used to steal banking information, according to Stern.

“People sending those e-mails (spam) want to target the biggest audience,” said Stacy Crook, senior research analyst for mobile enterprise at International Data Corp.

The risk is even greater with tablets and smart phones because big companies are now allowing their employees to bring their personal devices in to work and use them for business purposes as well, according to Crook. When people bring their own devices from home, they might download various apps for personal use and also have company information on it. What these people do not know is that those applications might have viruses attached to them or might make the phone or tablet vulnerable to hackers.

“Most people are not aware some of the apps they download aren’t safe,” Crook said.

To prevent hacking of corporate devices, companies must take security measures such as having a strategy in place to deal with the protection of company information. Another option is to hire another company specializing in security, to monitor applications being downloaded and corporate/private devices.
Companies have to make sure that wireless access and confidential data are encrypted so only those who have permission are able to access it. There should also be a list of potentially harmful applications and a list of safe ones approved by the company. This way a company can eliminate the potential threat of information leaks and monitor what apps employees are downloading.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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