Francis Maude urges vigilance as security campaign warns of smartphone malware

Criminals are profiting from mobile malware with the rise in popularity of smartphones and mobile web applications, national security campaign Get Safe Online warns.

The campaign is a joint government, police and industry initiative. It is urging smartphone users to protect themselves from downloading malicious mobile apps as part of Get Safe Online week, 7 to 11 November.

Criminals are creating malicious versions of legitimate apps which, once installed, generate cash for criminals by sending text messages to premium rate services controlled by the criminals.

Rik Ferguson, director for and of security research at Trend Micro, says this type of malware is capable of sending a steady stream of text messages to premium rate numbers.

“In some instances we’ve seen one being sent every minute, and with costs of up to £6 per message, this can be extremely lucrative,” he says.

Often the victim is unaware anything is wrong until they see their phone bill or their network provider identifies suspicious activity.

The latest research form Get Safe Online research shows 22% of UK mobile phone users are downloading new apps at least once a month.

“With users now installing and removing apps with increasing frequency, the chance of encountering a rogue app is much higher. Smartphone security, such as anti-virus or anti-malware software, is available but not widely deployed. Soon it will need to be commonplace,” said Ferguson.

Minister for cyber security Francis Maude said the latest research from Get Safe Online shows 17% of smartphone users now use their phone for money matters.

“This has not escaped the notice of criminals, so while accessing the web via a mobile device can be fun and save time, it’s important to be vigilant,” Maude said.

Tony Neate, head of Get Safe Online, said smartphones are now at as much risk from fraud as their computer and laptop counterparts, and represent big business for online criminals.

“Today there are clear signs of serious criminal intent to defraud users; we are seeing smart phones targeted by sophisticated and lucrative malware scams with increasing frequency and severity,” Maude said.

“Get Safe Online is encouraging all smartphone users to visit the campaign’s website and follow the guidelines for using mobile devices securely and safely.”

Get Safe Online’s advice for avoiding rogue apps

  • Rogue apps can appear in legitimate app stores as well as unofficial online stores, so it’s important to be extra vigilant when downloading new apps and to monitor your phone for any unusual activity.
  • Always check reviews and ratings as well as developer information before downloading a new app.
  • Malware can cause a lot of surreptitious activity on your phone, so battery performance might be a clue. If your battery suddenly starts draining really fast, consider that it might be a malware problem.
  • Make sure to check your phone bill online periodically – more often than once a month, that way you can keep tabs on any suspicious activity.

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