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Study Finds 77% of Mobile Users Compromised by Leak of PII Data

It doesn't help that 43% of companies have at least one mobile device with no lock screen active.

Larry Loeb

March 8, 2019

3 Min Read

Mobile security provider Wandera says that it has a network of corporate-enabled mobile devices across 1,500 enterprise customers globally, which it claims is the world's largest mobile security dataset.

Wandera has used data from that network to come up with a new study "Understanding the mobile threat landscape in 2019."

One of the major findings of the study was that 77% of mobile users had some form of PII (personally identifiable information) leaked in 2018. Now, Wandera considers PII to be any unique identifier for the user or the device, so this data leak analysis accounts for data such as location and device IP address.

The study says that the most frequently leaked PII is username and password, with credit card numbers/details being leaked the least frequently. It found 90% of mobile data leaks expose a username, 85% expose a password and only 2.3% expose credit card details.

Wandera thinks that this is due to transactions that transfer credit card data will be more rigorously protected by developers of apps than other types of data. It suggests that this is largely driven by the threat of fines for regulatory non-compliance as well as the specter of legal liability for identified leaks.

If one assumes, as the study does, that 90% of people reuse credentials between their accounts then it's simple to see how these PII leaks can be used to hijack a different account than the one which provided the leak.

Travel websites accounted for 10% of the leaks noted. This makes sense since mobile travel applications are frequently used for work, and so would be places that employees routinely use. Entertainment, lifestyle and technology services represent 19% of leaks between them.

There have been some encouraging trends in the security landscape. For example, the percentage of out-of-date operating systems on corporate-enabled devices has been trending down. Within the Wandera network, they saw a 60% decrease in out-of-date operating systems between February 2018 and January 2019.

But some simple vulnerabilities in mobile devices remain. The study found that 43% of companies have at least one mobile device with no lock screen active. Should a phone become lost, stolen, or even left unattended, then without a lock screen another person could easily read any messages or emails, as well as being able to access sensitive apps and other personal data.

Wandera found that phishing was the number one mobile threat. Fifty-seven percent of all organizations that reported have experienced a mobile phishing incident.

Not only that, the likelihood of encountering a mobile phishing attack climbs as the employee count does. Once an organization exceeds 1,000 employees, the likelihood of a phishing incident reaches 85% and continues to increase exponentially as the employee count climbs.

The form of those attacks is not what one might expect. Eighty-three percent of mobile phishing attacks occur outside of email; via SMS, iMessage, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and the like. They think this may be due to the smaller screen size of mobile devices makes it more difficult to inspect suspicious-looking URLs, and the on-the-go nature of mobile devices means more distracted users.

Mobile devices have their own specific vulnerabilities as this report shows. The security team needs to account for this when they make their action plans.

— Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek.

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About the Author(s)

Larry Loeb

Blogger, Informationweek

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek. He has written a book on the Secure Electronic Transaction Internet protocol. His latest book has the commercially obligatory title of Hack Proofing XML. He's been online since uucp "bang" addressing (where the world existed relative to !decvax), serving as editor of the Macintosh Exchange on BIX and the VARBusiness Exchange. His first Mac had 128 KB of memory, which was a big step up from his first 1130, which had 4 KB, as did his first 1401. You can e-mail him at [email protected].

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