Phone invaders: do you know what your smartphone is up to?

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Date:19 September 2014 Tags:, ,

It’s 2 am. Do you know what your smartphone is up to? It may not be sleeping faithfully beside you. Seduced by a server far away, it springs to life and betrays your trust, giving away your secrets and running up quite a tab. For many, the nightmare is a reality… By MacGregor Campbell

In 2011, a cybercriminal in China gained control of hundreds of thousands of phones, remotely directing them to send premium-rate text messages, call premium toll numbers and play pay-per-view videos while their owners slept on, oblivious.

Other phones develop late-night gambling habits. In 2012, journalist Elise Ackerman wrote about her friend, Mike, who caught his phone playing online poker. It then used his credit card to order wrinkle-removal cream, which arrived on his doorstep a few days later.

Our phones have become intimate companions. We interact with them on average 150 times a day, according to last year’s Internet Trends, an annual report by internet analyst Mary Meeker. They know who our friends and colleagues are. They know our passwords and banking details. They hold the keys to our digital lives. But our intimacy fools us into a false sense of security. “You think ‘Oh, this is just a phone’,” says Lorenzo Cavallaro, a mobile security researcher at Royal Holloway, University of London. “So you’re less inclined to think about security and privacy issues.”

Legions of cybercriminals, however, most certainly are thinking about these things. That little phone is a computer, just as hackable as a PC. As with computer viruses a decade ago, many security experts think that malware for mobile devices is set to explode. But this time round there’s no easy fix – especially when we are a big part of the problem.

(c) 2014 Reed Business Information, UK. All Rights Reserved.

Read more in PM’s October 2014 issue – on sale 22 September.