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Smartphones to outsell PCs - better security needed

According to a report in the New York Times, IDC's analysts are saying that a cybercrime wave on smartphones appears to have arrived.

"According to the mobile security firm Lookout, malware and spyware appeared on 9 out of 100 phones it scanned in May, more than twice the 4-in-100 rate in December 2009", the paper notes.

In fact, says the NYT, the most practical rule for protecting yourself is to start thinking of the smartphone as a PC, especially now that F-Secure is reporting more than 500 types of smartphone malware have appeared on mobile handsets, and the figure is rising steadily.

Early attacks, like the Cabir and Commwarrior worms in 2004 and 2005, says the paper, caused little damage.

"But since 2009, attacks have grown more menacing. In September, hackers trying to steal money from accounts at a Spanish bank installed malicious applications on Symbian devices when they synced to home PCs infected with a version of the Zeus malware", says the report.

And some experts, says the paper, believe that Android will become a top target for malware because anyone can create and distribute an app anywhere on the web.

As previously reported by Infosecurity, Google does not normally check Android apps for security issues but has - adds the paper - instead imposed technical hurdles to thwart malicious activity.

"For instance, apps run in a sandbox, a closed environment where they cannot affect one another or manipulate device features without user permission. Google removes from its official Android Market any apps that break its rules against malicious activity", notes the paper.

The NYT quotes Mikko Hypponen, F-Secure's chief research officer, as saying that tighter controls on use of third-party software on mobile devices may help explain the limited number of attacks so far.

"Attacks that bill cellphones are the most promising way for criminals to make money", says Hypponen, adding that hackers are figuring this out, as shown by multiple frauds on Facebook asking people to fill out online surveys and provide cellphone numbers, which then receive monthly charges.

"Check your bills carefully for unusual expenses", he advises, noting that the most widespread problem seen on BlackBerry handsets - as well as other platforms - are commercial spyware programs like FlexiSPY.

FlexiSPY, says Hypponen, is usually secretly installed by someone wanting to track a phone owner's location, listen to the calls and read text messages and/or emails.

"You can even turn on the microphone remotely and listen to what's being discussed around the phone, even if there's no phone call taking place", he said.

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