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Smartphone Security: What Are the Risks?

Posted on May 10, 2011
The smartphone, by providing Internet access on the mobile phone, has revolutionized the way of doing things, but with greater functionality comes greater risk. Read on for an understanding of smartphone security issues, and ways to overcome them.
Tags: smartphone security

Internet Viruses

The major uses of smartphones—to send and receive emails, to enjoy songs and movies, and to process data files—all make the devices extremely vulnerable to viruses.
Internet viruses mostly spread in smartphones through:

·    Email or instant messenger links and attachments, made innocuous by having important looking subject titles and addresses that closely resemble genuine business emails. Emails containing viruses come from both unknown and known senders, with most people remaining oblivious to the virus infections on their phones.
·    Downloading movies, songs, and non-trusted applications. Even security patches and malware removers downloaded from dubious third-party websites can contain viruses.
·    Downloading and running games that run scripts and use Flash.

Anti-virus and anti-spam applications for smartphones are still in an early stage of development, and as such, the potential devastation caused by viruses is larger than that compared to the devastation caused on ordinary computers.

Basic tips for protection against viruses on smartphones include:

·    Refraining from opening unsolicited emails or chatting with unknown persons.
·    Downloading songs and music only from trusted websites.
·    Avoiding online gaming from non-trusted sites.
·    Maximizing security settings of the phone and all applications.
·    Installing reputable firewalls, anti-virus software, and useful add-ons distributed by trusted and well-known developers.
·    Updating security patches as and when available, but only from trusted websites.
·    Checking memory cards and other external devices for infections before using them in smartphones.

Mobile Viruses

Mobile viruses and malware that are spread through SMS, multimedia messaging services (MMS), and Bluetooth constitute a bigger threat to smartphone security compared to the threat of Internet viruses.

SMS and MMS can deliver harmful malware just as emails deliver infected links and attachments. Bluetooth, by allowing identification and exchange of files among Bluetooth enabled mobiles in the vicinity allows mobile worms to spread rapidly, with infected mobiles leaving a trail of other infected mobiles along the travel path.

The earliest mobile virus, Ojam, released in 2004 sent SMS messages without the user’s knowledge. Another virus, Cabir, released around the same time replicated itself on Bluetooth wireless networks. The earliest MMS virus outbreak was the Commwarrior-A work in 2005, inflecting Symbian series 60 mobile phones.


Inception and hacking ranks among the major risks associated with smartphone security.

WiFi and Bluetooth enabled smartphones remain connected to the Internet and external networks, making it easy for hackers to determine the IP address and gain access to the smartphone. Many corporate smartphones also remain simultaneously connected to the company intranet, making it possible for hackers to gain access to secure company data through smartphones.

The Internet connection notwithstanding, the GPRS and EDGE cellular connection itself makes the smartphone vulnerable to hacking. Motivated eavesdroppers have broken GSM authentication algorithms such as A5 in the past to reconstruct voice and data conversations. CDMA and associated algorithms remain tougher to crack, but many cellular service providers do not implement all the available security controls as such controls hamper performance.

Some methods to help prevent such vulnerability include:

·    Ensuring encryption of all essential services at the application level using SSL or similar protocols.
·    Using direct SIP-compliant voice-over-IP clients through a smart phone's VPN data connection. Closed-protocol applications such as Skype Mobile may route across public connection even with VPN available.
·    Disabling WiFi and set Bluetooth into ‘nondiscoverable’ mode when connectivity is not required.

Smartphones are in essence miniaturized computers and the security issues related to computers affect smartphones as well. Even if the limited scope of smartphone usage when compared to desktops and laptops deters malicious security crackers, the ability of the smartphone to transfer files to a more general-purpose computer makes it a tempting medium for spreading viruses and other malicious code.

If your smartphone uses the Symbian or Windows Mobile operating system, you may also want to check into some of the security applications offered by major developers such as Kaspersky and Norton. Not only do these programs help safeguard your smartphone from viruses, but they also include several privacy tools that will help protect your phone from prying eyes or even remotely wipe it clean of personal information if stolen. These products are very reasonably priced, and the additional protection they offer is worth every penny.

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