12:41 PM

Mobile Security Exploits To Double

Many of the threats involve mobile operating systems with easy-to-exploit vulnerabilities that can lead to arbitrary code execution.

Lookout Mobile Security Protects Android Smartphones
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Expect the number of mobile device exploits to double by year's end.

That prediction comes from a new report released by IBM's X-Force research group, which examined attack trends for the first half of 2011.

IBM found that the number of known mobile operating system vulnerabilities, which more than doubled from 2009 to 2010, seems set to increase only slightly from 2010 to 2011. But the number of mobile device exploits--using those vulnerabilities--increased by 400% from mid-2009 to mid-2010, and now seems set to double from 2010 to 2011.

"For years, observers have been wondering when malware would become a real problem for the latest generation of mobile devices," said Tom Cross, manager of threat intelligence and strategy for IBM X-Force, in a statement. "It appears that the wait is over."

[ The mobile security landscape is changing. Learn more: Mobile Security's Future: 4 Expert Predictions ]

Malware creators, notably, continue to hone their craft. Notably, of the 24 mobile operating system vulnerabilities seen in the first half of 2011, half involve easy-to-exploit vulnerabilities that can lead to arbitrary code execution on the targeted device.

"Almost all of these vulnerabilities represent client software remote code execution vulnerabilities that are exploitable by malicious Web servers through the browser or the browser environment," according to IBM's report. "These vulnerabilities directly fit the drive-by-download approach of attracting victims to malicious websites that has been the pattern of a great deal of attack activity in the past few years."

At the same time that the quantity and sophistication of exploits has been increasing, so has the adoption of smartphones and tablets by business users. Many users also naturally bring their device to work, yet don't add security tools before using the devices to store sensitive data, which puts business information at risk. That risk is further compounded by many cell phone carriers failing to push security updates to their customers, and many mobile application developers failing to secure their applications.

What can mobile device users do to prevent their device from being exploited? First, consider mobile security tools. But also practice mobile security smarts. For starters, IBM recommends sticking with reputable application marketplaces, "such as the official Google Market or Amazon's Android application market."

Of course, malware sometimes sneaks into those application markets, especially since Google doesn't vet applications before it allows them into its application store, instead relying on users to spot any issues. Accordingly, keep an eye on access. For example, "a game should not require GPS or SMS access," said IBM. Also avoid "free" copies of normally paid applications. Finally, consider crowdsourcing to help vet applications before installing them. "Only install applications that have a large number of installs (100,000 or more) with a high review rating," said IBM.

Managing the password proliferation from mobility, partner access, and online apps requires a cohesive strategy. But our research on the state of ID management shows troubling trends. That and more in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek. Download it now. (Free with registration.)

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