Five worthy reads is a regular column on five noteworthy items we’ve discovered while researching trending and timeless topics. This week, we are exploring mobile malware attacks, how they have exploited users, and the ways to prevent them in the digital era.
When was the last time you took a handwritten list to the grocery store instead of saving a list as a note or voice message on WhatsApp? Mobile phones have gone through a crazy evolution. Though they started off as a medium of communication, now we are pretty much caged in by these digital devices.
Hackers prey on smartphones for a million reasons. Most people have resorted to using the same device for personal and professional purposes. Plus, an employee spends 80% of their time outside of the organization, which makes it easier for hackers to break into their device. Through mobile banking, online shopping, and other applications, personal data is readily available and at stake. The most common vulnerabilities that lead to cyberattacks are when individuals use the same password for every application, don’t enable appropriate security locks, visit malicious websites, and click suspicious advertisements and attachments.
With more people investing in cryptocurrency, hackers have started using that medium to steal data also. When a crypto wallet is hacked, there is no way to recover the funds. Zero-click attacks, smishing, spyware, and masqueraded application in app stores are some other currently popular attacks that cause damage to users.
Because of the smartphone’s compact structure and convenience, enterprises are diving towards using smartphones for official purposes. All it takes is one compromised credential to turn the whole system topsy-turvy.
Let’s delve into the most common modes of exploitation on mobile phones and the possible ways to be on guard.
The first mobile malware attack, the Cabir worm, dates back to 2004 on Nokia’s Symbian devices. Soon after, Trojan viruses such as Mosquito and Skuller began to plague the industry. Unlike Apple, Android devices are easily vulnerable due to their vast availability and open platform. What started as detecting user locations slowly evolved into capturing conversations, making false payments, and wiping entire data sets in return for a ransom.
With 6.6 billion active mobile users across the world, intruders are always at an arm’s length to find a way in. Mobile phones, in addition to being personal devices, are now also used in corporate networks for business purposes. BYOD policies are on the rise, and in such environments, IT security can be controlled only to a certain extent as the devices ultimately belong to the employees. Mobile malware is a piece of software specifically written to damage mobile devices and their operating systems. In the past, it was predominantly traditional workstations that were vulnerable to threats. But in recent times, there has been an exponential growth in threats to smartphones as well.
Even if a user implements every possible security check to keep application-based threats from corrupting their device, cyberattackers could still find a way to barge in and impose challenges on the user. Threats don’t necessarily have to be smishing or spyware; they can be network- or web-based or even involve the physical loss of devices. The most common modes of exploitation are a user jailbreaking their device or downloading applications they believe to be credible.
Similar to the way viruses attack computers and networks, mobile devices can also be infected with malicious code. There’s a good chance that many of our gadgets have been affected by a threat. Once malware takes control of a device, the user may experience slowdowns in operations, receive inappropriate spam messages, have their locations spied on, and pretty much have their privacy devoured.
Because most mobile devices are not properly secured or monitored by device management tools, the scope of malware intrusion is always increasing. Masqueraded applications are tailored in such a way as to deceive users and break into their devices. To download apps, we tend to visit the Apple App Store or Google Play, which list unverified apps that might infect our devices. There are also instances where users may rely on third-party app stores or directly install apps on their devices. If these contain malicious code, the infection may pass through them.
Mobile devices have evolved from personal gadgets to play an important role in corporate networks as well. Hawkeyed hackers look for any way to enter an endpoint to damage the whole business. Giving access and permissions only to the necessary features of applications and regularly updating devices are some of the many ways to resist mobile malware attacks. Implementing proactive mobile device management tools and imparting necessary cybersecurity education to employees can help prevent most of these attacks.
There is no fail-safe solution to evade malware attacks, but there are ways through which applications can be scrutinized to determine their authenticity. Android and iOS phones both have loopholes allowing for malicious entry. Users should do a proper quality check before proceeding with app downloads and should avoid installing unverified apps. The app stores, before releasing apps to the public, should also initiate substantial detection techniques to identify flaws.
As much as we stay on our phones, safety is no longer an option but a priority.