Your smartphone: The next big security headache

2011 is the year that mobile security is going mainstream

2011 is the year that mobile security is going mainstream. Here at 2011 RSA Conference in San Francisco many of the security software companies I've spoken to have either released--or are planning to release a mobile security app of some sort.

And while smartphones aren't a major malware target in the United States yet, there are reasons to be concerned about the future of mobile security.

One of Android strengths is its openness. Just about anyone can write an app and distribute it without having to go through a sometimes lengthy review process. But as is the case on the PC, this sort of openness makes it possible for malware writers to infiltrate the smartphone. Security companies seem to think Android is the next big malware target, thanks to this openness, and the fact that it runs on so many devices.

Some of the vendors I spoke to also seemed concerned that the paranoia that users often carry when it comes to downloading and installing software on a PC might not carry over to when they use smartphones, even though the threats are there.

Mobile malware is already a problem in parts of the world. This past week, mobile security software company Lookout Mobile found a Trojan circulating via re-packaged versions of Android apps and being distributed on alternative app markets in China.

Raimund Genes, the Chief Technology Officer for Trend Micro, notes that mobile malware authors are creating their own app stores to distribute malware in China. He predicts that we in the United States see more proofs-of-concept mobile malware this year, and that it'll become a serious problem in 2012.

Smartphones carry additional information that you may not keep on your PC, like your contacts' phone numbers, photos you've taken with your smartphone, and so on. And, unlike a PC, a smartphone can be easily lost: You likely will remember to take your laptop with you if you get up and leave the Starbucks you're browsing the Web at, but it's much easier to leave behind a smartphone.

In fact, Patrick Kennedy, the Senior Director of Product Marketing with Webroot, sees this as the bigger threat toward smartphones right now. And not surprisingly, many of the smartphone security apps we've seen so far put a big emphasis on securing your personal data if your smartphone gets lost or stolen.

Smartphone malware is in its infancy, and it's hard to say what will happen next, but all indications point toward some serious problems in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, keep your guard up, stay vigilant, and think before you install that next app.

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Nick Mediati

PC World (US online)
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