The growth of malware families attacking Android smartphones and tablets will be one of the most prevailing threats in 2014, according to security specialist F-Secure Corporation (M) Sdn Bhd.
Users who download supposedly “free” apps from third-party application stores are going to be the main targets of hackers trying to infect smartphones, said Goh Su Gim, its Asia security advisor.
So what is the underlying purpose of malware on smartphones? Goh says monetary gain is the main motivation and points to the existence of smartphone malware that sends expensive SMS messages to premium content providers, often in the background without the user’s knowledge.
Yet other types of malware affecting mobiles include Trojans that collect private or location information from smartphone users — this data is then resold to marketing or advertising companies. On the PC side, computers running Windows XP and Windows 2000 are going to continue to be haunted by age-old foes like the Conficker virus and its variants that have been plaguing users for the past five years and is still topping the list of infections on PCs today.
These viruses can only be adequately prevented by upgrading to more secure (and modern) operating systems like Windows 7 or Windows 8, especially since Microsoft has already announced that it will drop support for Windows XP from April 2014 onwards.
Another potential opportunity for cyber criminals is the rise of Bitcoin, a form of digital currency that has risen in popularity in the last few years and is used for both illicit and legal payment of products and services over the Internet.
Bitcoins can be exchanged for actual currency and a single Bitcoin is today valued as high as US$1,000 (about RM3,100).
Goh says that cyber crooks are today already thinking of ways to mine more Bitcoins through thousands of infected PCs in a botnet or dropping in malware to steal Bitcoins from the digital wallets of PC users. Like actual cash, Bitcoins are anonymous and not tagged to anyone and thus, stealing Bitcoins is effectively the same as stealing money from a physical wallet.
Finally, Goh sees that ransomware will be more mainstream in the future, where malware infects a person’s PC and locks out the user by encrypting all data on the hard drive until a “ransom” is paid to the malware creator to unlock the data again.
Ransomware like Cryptolocker has infected hundreds of thousands of PCs over the past few months alone, especially in the Asia Pacific region, Goh says.
As with any security threat, Goh says that awareness is key — the government needs to raise awareness in both consumers as well as IT professionals through conferences and workshops to encourage businesses to take IT security seriously.
Businesses especially need to understand that it’s not just a matter of loss of customer information, but also the reputation of the business as well. He also encourages users and businesses in general to regularly backup their information to an offsite location.
At the same time, Goh says that governments should have stricter laws on safeguarding user cloud data from being spied on by foreign countries.
Dancing with danger
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