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Looking to the Past to Understand Today’s Mobile Malware Problem

by Juniper Employee ‎10-04-2010 01:33 PM - edited ‎02-08-2011 05:20 PM

 

In the beginning of May, 2000 I was working as the Director of Information Systems for a cool Internet company.  As this was the time of excessive fun at technology companies, my team and I were really looking forward to the company Cinco de Mayo party.  At a company where “Beer O’Clock” included a cart full of beer being pushed through the ultra-modern loft office so developers, project managers and designers could comfortably finish their hard day’s work, the parties were really something special.  Unfortunately, the highly publicized and globally impacting I Love You/Love Letter worm changed our plans.  My team and I literally spent that first week of May, including Cinco de Mayo, working around the clock to restore computer systems and servers, instead of drinking tequila and Coronas.

 

Moving forward 10 years, I find it disheartening that the hard-learned lessons of the past, including those resulting from “I Love You”, are being forgotten when it comes to mobile devices.  Let’s think about the “I Love You” worm:

 

  • Spread by end-users making bad decisions on how they interacted with their computer systems
  • Was highly publicized: You knew when you were infected and tens of millions of devices were impacted
  • Antivirus software played a critical role in protecting devices from this and future threats
  • As Malware evolved from this worm, the goal of hackers changed from being “loud” and obvious, to being stealthy and financially motivated.  Spyware became more and more prevalent and those waiting to experience an infection before taking laptop, desktop and server security seriously were putting themselves at risk of unknowingly being infected by Spyware and not having any security in place to address the threat.  To this day, companies and users wouldn’t think of surfing the Internet, downloading applications and using e-mail on their desktops and laptops without having Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware solutions installed.

Few would dispute that mobile devices – Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Symbian, etc. – are actually mobile computers performing the same functions as traditional laptop and desktop computers.  Notwithstanding, the lessons from “I Love You” and other infections are being forgotten, while new lessons are being ignored.  Consider the following:

 

  • Users are implored to download applications to their mobile devices to increase productivity, to be entertained and to remain fashionable.  You are hard-pressed to watch a television show or read through a magazine without being told about the fabulous applications you should download to your phone.
  • Smartphone devices have the capability of storing more than 10x the data of laptops from 10 years ago and users are constantly urged to use their devices for work, e-mail, banking, etc.
  • While content is constantly being downloaded to smartphones, the vast majority of mobile devices – upwards of 90% - do not contain any Anti-Virus/Anti-Malware software
  • While end-users are historically the weakest link when it comes to enforcing security, mobile operating systems often rely solely on the end-users judgment as means to provide security for the device.   Presenting an application’s permissions during installation is certainly a great step (BlackBerry and Android offer this feature”, though completely relies on the end-user’s judgment, which is historically flawed and needs to be supplemented with technology, such as Anti-Malware software.
  • A number of IT Administrators and consumers with which I’ve spoken reference the fact that widespread mobile malware infections have yet to take place and once mobile infections “make the Wall Street Journal”, they will then begin to take mobile Anti-Malware solutions seriously.  This completely ignores the change in hacker goals to be stealthy and financially motivated and not “loud”.  If you are silently being infected by Spyware on mobile devices, waiting for a widespread, publicly noted outbreak is counter-intuitive.   And for those waiting for mobile malware infections to “make the Wall Street Journal”, note the below Wall Street Journal links reporting on this very subject, as well as a great recent study conducted by SANS.

“RIM Warns Update Has Spyware”

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124827172417172239.html

 

Dark Side Arises for Phone Apps

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703340904575284532175834088.html?mod=WSJ_hps_MIDDLEFor...

 

SANS study: One in five mobile devices running malware

http://www.infoworld.com/t/malware/sans-study-one-in-five-mobile-devices-running-malware-997

 

Mobile malware is certainly a real and growing problem that needs to be addressed today.  With mobile devices having the same capabilities of laptop computers, performing the same functions and constantly having data and applications installed by non-security minded end-users in the absence of any security software installed on the mobile computing device, there is certainly a ripe environment for exploitation that needs to be addressed.  The question becomes are you opting to ignore and explain away the threat, or are you willing to recognize the signs that a growing concern is at hand and will take the necessary action.  Having directly been affected by malware in the past, I’ve opted to address the threat and install security software on my mobile devices.

 

Comments
by timi on ‎10-17-2010 06:56 PM

hi we like top no mach about your pakage

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