Archive for September, 2011
Hackers have broken into the cellphones of celebrities like Scarlett Johansson and Prince William. But what about the rest of us, who might not have particularly salacious photos or voice messages stored in our phones, but nonetheless have e-mails , credit card numbers and records of our locations?
A growing number of companies, including start-ups and big names in computer security like McAfee, Symantec, Sophos and AVG, see a business opportunity in mobile security – protecting cellphones from hacks and malware that could read text messages, store location information or add charges directly to mobile phone bills.
On Tuesday, McAfee introduced a service for consumers to protect their smartphones, tablets and computers at once, and last week the company introduced a mobile security system for businesses. Last month, AT&T partnered with Juniper Networks to build mobile security apps for consumers and businesses.
The Defense Department has called for companies and universities to come up with ways to protect Android devices from malware. In an indication of investor interest , one start-up , Lookout, last week raised $40 million from venture capital firms, including Andreessen Horowitz, bringing its total to $76.5 million.
The company makes an app that scans other apps that people download to their phones, looking for malware and viruses. It automatically tracks 700,000 mobile apps and updates Lookout whenever it finds a threat.
Still, in some ways, it’s an industry ahead of its time. Experts in mobile security agree that mobile hackers are not yet much of a threat. But that is poised to change quickly, they say, especially as people increasingly use their phones to exchange money, by mobile shopping or using digital wallets like Google Wallet.
“Unlike PCs, the chance of running into something in the wild for your phone is quite low,” saidCharlie Miller, a researcher at Accuvant, a security consulting company, and a hacker who has revealed weaknesses in iPhones. “That’s partly because it’s more secure but mostly because the bad guys haven’t gotten around to it yet.
But the bad guys are going to slowly follow the money.” Most consumers, though they protect their computers, are unaware that they need to secure their phones, he said, “but thesmartphones people have are computers, and the same thing that can happen on your computer can happen on your phone.” Cellphone users are more likely than computer users to click on dangerous links or download sketchy apps because they are often distracted, experts say. Phones can be more vulnerable because they connect to wireless networks at the gym or the coffee shop, and hackers can surreptitiously charge consumers for a purchase.
There have already been harmful attacks, most of which have originated in China, said John Hering, co-founder and chief executive of Lookout. For example, this year, the Android market was hit by malware called DroidDream. Hackers pirated 80 apps, added malicious code and tricked users into downloading them. Google said 260,000 devices were attacked.