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How to build your mobile defences

Nokia’s latest Threat Intelligence Report covering the second half of 2016 revealed that mobile device infection rates rose steadily throughout 2016. Apparently they reached an all-time high in October and compared to the first six months of the year the number of infections grew by 63%.
As if that startling rise wasn’t enough to chew on, smart phones were targeted more than any other mobile device accounting for 85 percent of all mobile device infections. Furthermore, smart phone infections increased 83 percent during this period, compared to the first half of the year. That’s one hell of an increase.
The Nokia report said during October 2016 malware struck an estimated 1.35% of all mobile devices. This is the highest level of infection seen since reporting on mobile malware started in 2012.
Let’s just put some perspective on that. In 2014 analysts at GSMA Intelligence calculated that the number of active mobile devices was somewhere around 7.22 billion. A 1.35% infection rate might not seem like much but 1.35% of 7.22 billion is something close to 97 million mobile devices. If the Nokia figures are correct that’s more than the entire population of Germany being infected in one single month.
Unsurprisingly Android-based smartphones and tablets were the main targets of malware accounting for 81% of all infections. This reflects just how widespread and popular Android devices are worldwide.
That said Apple’s iOS didn’t escape attacks. Although iOS only accounted for 4% of attacks the malware was particularly devious and largely consisted of surveillance software that tracks users' calls, text messages, social media applications, web searches, GPS locations and other activities.
Clearly mobile security breaches are a significant and growing threat. Given the figures it’s hard to argue against this.
More bracing figures are thrown up by CheckPoint’s annual Security Report 2016. This claims that that some form of known malware is downloaded every 81 seconds in an enterprise organization and the largest percentage of this is on mobile devices.

Time to get real

It might be a bit of an understatement to say that there is a tidal wave of malware out there surging towards your mobile device. It’s more like a tsunami.
Smartphones and tablets are no longer nice to have devices. They’re powerful tools used in business and personal lives, an essential part of our digital lives. They store reams of sensitive data whether its contacts, banking information or for some people naughty photos. Loss can be devastating. So here’s what you need to do to protect yours.

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Get some antivirus

There’s a curious dichotomy in the mobile world, for some unknown reason many people simply don’t secure their mobile devices with time-honoured antivirus protection. Why is that?
Mobile users are just as vulnerable to the nasties that plague the desktop world like devious phishing endeavours, malicious links hidden in websites or malware tucked out of sight in online advertising. And as the figures above illustrate malware is on the rise, growing at a seriously exponential rate.
BullGuard Mobile Security provides an impressive array of defences against malware and importantly its cloud-based antivirus engine doesn’t drain your battery. It also has a range of protective tools such as device location, remote locking or data wipe of private information if the device recovery is impossible, if a device is lost or stolen. What’s more, it’s free.

If you’ve got kids consider parental controls

Kids are welded to mobile devices like iron to a magnet. They’ve grown up with them from barely beyond the foetus stage, play with them as toddlers and use them every day to hang out with friends online. We look out for the kids when they’re out and about but the dangers on the street are also reflected online.
Stranger danger is real, bullying is a big problem and inadvertent exposure to all sorts of hideous images, opinions and general nastiness is just around the digital corner. This is why parental controls on mobile devices make so much sense.
Of course, you don’t want to be policing your children 24/7 and they will also be appalled at such a move. However, discreet parental controls can flag up potential dangers such as children accessing inappropriate content, downloading questionable images or being approached by someone who’s motives are at the best dubious.
A low-cost paid version of BullGuard Mobile Security not only provides all around protection against loss, theft and malware but also parental controls that help you keep a discrete eye on your charges.

Screen locks are good

Mobile devices have evolved and today they all provide passwords, PIN codes, gesture-based verification and even a fingerprint scan to protect access. These are good and important tools but you always bolster these defences with screen lock apps.
Given the amount of personal information we carry on our devices, much of it sensitive, it pays to have good defences to safeguard against worst-case situations such as loss or theft.  Some offer added features such as taking a picture of someone who tries to access the phone along with the date and time without that person knowing anything about it.
There are a lot of lock screen apps for Android devices and many include one or two unique features such as the ‘silent selfie’ mentioned above, such as loud, piercing alarms that let you and anybody else know that somebody is trying to access your phone; a very useful feature indeed.

Seal those communications

It seems barely another month ticks by before Wikileaks or some other source reveals that spooks have been using various home grown programmes to bust the security of even the most secure mobile devices or that mass scale surveillance techniques have been plundering citizen data for a long time.
And certainly the concept of privacy on the internet or for digital communications seems old fashioned and quaint. The UK has ushered in one of the most invasive and far reaching acts ever known. Dubbed the Snooper’s Charter it gives license to all manner of agencies to access anyone’s internet usage data, text messages and more.
It’s enough to make you paranoid. If you feel strongly enough about it you can find some way of fighting back or do what the government does and deploy a few technologies to keep your private communications, private.
One of the most suitable for mobile devices is a virtual private network (VPN) application. It’s not bullet proof but it will deter casual snoopers and hackers who hover around public Wi-Fi networks. And it will make you feel better.
VPN’s creates a secure encrypted connection between your device and the VPN’s server. It takes a fairly advanced hacker to crack a VPN and as such it’s a useful security tool. Thankfully many mobile devices support VPNs and some even have the feature built in.  That said, there are also stand-alone VPNs that you can download onto your device.

Get a password manager

The more complex your password the harder it is to crack.  At least some people understand this, though many still use frighteningly simple passwords such as ‘qwerty’ or ‘1234567’.  This is bit like leaving your key by your front door. This is why password managers are such useful tools. You can use them to create tough-to-crack passwords for each account you need to protect, especially those that hold sensitive private information. 
This is an outright reckless thing to do, because whoever cracks it, has it all – our data, our entire digital identity stolen. Keeping a list of your sophisticated passwords in a notebook is also not an option, and it takes eidetic memory to keep the lot in your head. That is why a reliable password manager is mandatory for everyone, who has several accounts with sensitive business, financial or private information. There are lots of password managers to choose from, and some of them are free. Given the startling rise in mobile malware using a password manager is not a bad idea.
Filed under: Tips and tricks

Written by Steve Bell

Steve has a background in IT and business journalism and has written extensively for both the UK national and trade press including The Guardian, Independent-on-Sunday, The Times, The Register, MicroScope and Computer Weekly. He's also worked for most of the world's largest IT companies producing content producing. He has a particular focus on IT security and has produced several magazines in this area.

More articles by Steve Bell

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