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Mobile Attacks Top the List of 2013 Security Threats

Thor Olavsrud | Jan. 10, 2013
For years, information security experts have predicted a spike in mobile malware. Will 2013 be the year of mobile attacks? And what other security threats are on the horizon?

One particular area of concern is malware that buys apps from an app store without user permission. McAfee points to the Android/Marketpay.A Trojan, which already exists, and predicts we'll see criminals add it as a payload to a mobile worm in 2013.

"Buying apps developed by malware authors puts money in their pockets," McAfee Labs suggests in its 2013 Threats Predictions report. "A mobile worm that uses exploits to propagate over numerous vulnerable phones is the perfect platform for malware that buys such apps; attackers will no longer need victims to install a piece of malware. If user interaction isn't needed, there will be nothing to prevent a mobile worm from going on a shopping spree."

McAfee also has concerns about the near-field communications (NFC) capabilities that are appearing on an increasing number of mobile devices.

"As users are able to make "tap and pay" purchases in more locations, they'll carry their digital wallets everywhere," McAfee Labs says. "That flexibility will, unfortunately, also be a boon to thieves. Attackers will create mobile worms with NFC capabilities to propagate (via the "bump and infect" method) and to steal money. Malware writers will thrive in areas with dense populations (airports, malls, theme parks, etc.). An NFC-enabled worm could run rampant through a large crowd, infecting victims and potentially stealing from their wallet accounts."

McAfee also reports that malware that blocks mobile devices from receiving security updates is likely to appear in 2013.

Mobile Ransomware

Ransomware-in which criminals hijack a user's capability to access data, communicate or use the system at all and then forces the user to pay a ransom to regain access-spiked in 2012 and is likely to keep growing in 2013, says McAfee.

"Ransomware on Windows PCs has more than tripled during the past year," McAfee Labs reports. "Attackers have proven that this 'business model' works and are scaling up their attacks to increase profits."

McAfee Labs says it expects to see both Android and Apple's OS X as targets of ransomware in 2013 as ransomware kits, similar to the malware kits currently available in the underground market, proliferate.

"One limitation for many malware authors seeking profit from mobile devices is that more users transact business on desktop PCs than on tablets or phones," McAfee Labs says. "But this trend may not last; the convenience of portable browsers will likely lead more people to do their business on the go. Attackers have already developed ransomware for mobile devices. What if the ransom demand included threats to distribute recorded calls and pictures taken with the phone? We anticipate considerably more activity in this area during 2013."

AlienVault, provider of a unified security management solution, agrees, "We will see new ransomware tactics in 2013 as a result of the poor economy and the success of this type of attack (reportedly, cybercriminals raked in $5 million using ransomware tactics in 2012)."


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