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Apple Dials Up Encryption as Mobile Threats Soar

The monthly smartphone infection rate in the second half of 2016 jumped 83% from the first six months, with overall infections in mobile networks reaching an all-time high in October, according to new data from Nokia.

The infection rate in mobile networks – which includes Windows/PC systems connected by dongle and mobile IoT devices – rose “steadily” during the year to hit a new high of 1.35% in October.

The vast majority of infections (85%) discovered in mobile networks belonged to smartphones, with Android (81%) the main culprit, followed by Windows/PCs (15%) and 4% linked to iPhones and other mobile devices.

Nokia explained:

“Many people are surprised to find that Windows/PCs are responsible for a large portion of the malware infections detected when analyzing mobile network traffic. These Windows/PCs are connected to the mobile network using USB dongles and mobile Wi-Fi devices or simply tethered through smartphones. They are responsible for 15% of the malware infections observed. This is because these devices are still a popular target for professional cybercriminals who have a huge investment in the Windows malware ecosystem. However, as the smart phone becomes the more preferred platform for accessing the internet, cybercrime is clearly moving in that direction.”

The news comes as Apple issued its iOS 10.3 release, designed to fix a Safari-based scareware issue and more importantly roll out a whole new file system which will make encryption an even bigger part of devices.

First announced at the Worldwide Developers’ Conference last year, the Apple File System (APFS) will replace the decades-old Hierarchical File System (HFS).

Reports suggest it could help users save some disk space and speed up performance, but perhaps most controversially will support strong full disk encryption natively.

Users will be able to choose a maximum security “multi-key encryption with per-file keys for file data, and a separate key for sensitive metadata”.

As described by Apple: “Multi-key encryption ensures the integrity of user data even when its physical security is compromised."

This is sure to raise the heckles of law enforcers and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic but will please businesses and Apple users no end. 

Only a few days ago home secretary Amber Rudd attacked tech firms like WhatsApp for allowing terrorists to hide their communications, and hinted that she would be looking to force some kind of compromise on encryption. That appears even more unlikely after this latest update.

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