1/18/2017
09:20 PM
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Mobile Security Gap Threatens Enterprises

Rush to release, rapid growth in mobile malware is exacerbating the problem, two reports show.



Concerns over the security of the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) have garnered a lot of attention following the massive Mirai botnet-enabled DDoS attacks on Dyn and other major Internet companies late last year. But for many organizations, an equally pressing concern continues to be mobile security.

Two separate surveys released this week show that the growing ubiquity of mobile devices, their increasing sophistication, and the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon continue to cause big problems for organizations across the board.

A Ponemon Institute study - conducted on behalf of IBM Security and Arxan Technologies surveyed 600 IT and IT security practitioners - found that 84% of them are very concerned about malware threats to their mobile applications, compared to 66% who said the same about their IoT application environment.

A sobering 60%, or six out of 10 of the respondents, say their organization had been breached as the result of an insecure mobile application over the past 12 months. The survey showed that less than 30% of mobile applications are tested for vulnerabilities. Some 44% confessed to taking no measures to protect their mobile environment.

Despite the heightened awareness of risk, many organizations appear to lack a sense of urgency in addressing mobile security issues. In fact, a mere 32% of the survey respondents describe their organizations as urgently wanting to secure the mobile application environment.

The second report, from Trend Micro, is based on data collected in 2016 from monitoring systems on the networks of its customers, as well as data from third-party sources.

Trend Micro noted a sharp increase in the number of unique Android malware samples targeted at mobile users—from 10.7 million samples in 2015 to more than 19.2 million in December 2016.

On a global basis, exploits and rooting malware proved to be the biggest security scourge for mobile devices users. But for users in the US, Trend Micro’s analysis showed it was unwanted and potentially harmful applications such as adware and spyware that posed the biggest problems.

In keeping with broader trends, ransomware emerged as a major security threat for mobile device users in 2016. Ransomware families such as SLocker, FLocker, SMSLocker, and Koler contributed to a near doubling in ransomware samples detected by Trend Micro in 2016 compared to a year ago. Other major threats included mobile banking Trojans and an increase in malware such as Dirty COW, Drammer and Quadrooter, which are capable of gaining root access on mobile devices.

Unlike in 2015 when many of the disclosed vulnerabilities were related to Android’s media server process, 2016 witnessed an increase in kernel vulnerabilities, especially in products from Qualcomm, MediaTech, and Nvidia, the Trend Micro report noted.

The Ponemon report showed that as in previous years, many security problems in the mobile domain continue to result from a rush to release software, and a tendency to favor user convenience over safety.

Mandeep Khera, chief marketing officer at Arxan, says one of the biggest takeaways from this year’s survey is that organizations appear to be waiting for either a big visible hack or a regulation to happen before investing in mobile protection.

"This is a huge mistake," Khera says. "One hack could set an organization back dramatically in terms of financial losses, brand damage, recovery costs, and even drop in stock price."

The biggest surprise in the survey was that a vast majority of the respondents believe that they are likely to get hacked, yet most of them are not doing much to protect themselves, he says.

"Although the top-tier companies are doing a much better job of protecting themselves against mobile threats, most of the companies are falling behind," as the number of mobile apps have proliferated. Khera says. "Hackers are finding mobile apps a great place to attack and these apps in the wild have binary code that's vulnerable and unprotected."

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Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio

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