McAfee: Why it's time to up your mobile security

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(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Despite the vast majority of people now owning at least one mobile device, the need to keep our smartphones or other handsets secured often falls by the wayside.

Mobile security threats continue to grow as hackers look to target the often-porous Android ecosystem, but IoT-connected devices are also becoming an increasingly popular victim for attackers.

TechRadar Pro spoke to McAfee at the recent MWC 2019 event in Barcelona to find out just how big a worry mobile security should be, and how you can stay protected.

Path of least resistance

McAfee released its latest Mobile Threat Report during MWC, revealing that the number of fake apps detected by the company’s products skyrocketed from around 10,000 in June 2018 to 65,000 in 2018.

This growth highlights the increasing threat facing mobile users on a daily basis, but also raises concern about possible laissez-faire attitudes among many users.

"Everything in your life is on your phone...and you use it to engage with everything in your home - if you want to turn the lights up, or padlocks on, it's on your device,” says Gary Davis,  chief consumer security evangelist at McAfee. 

“Until we see some sort of attack that severely cripples the use of the device... we'll still say you need to secure this and take the same precautions you would do with your computer.”

“More and more of the cybercriminals are thinking, this is a rich compute environment that, relatively speaking, hasn't been exploited as much as it can be,” Davis says.

“The bad guys are always looking for the path of least resistance.”

Along with fake apps, the Mobile Threat Report also uncovered huge rises in email hacks and smishing attacks - but surprisingly identified a drop in mobile malware (although new malware forms still numbered 1.8m in the surveyed period).

However Raj Samani, McAfee fellow and chief scientist at McAfee, notes that this could just be a trend that may later return, noting that the price of threats also plays a key role - for example, the use of bitcoin miners goes up as the price of cryptocurrency rises or falls.

(Image: © Shutterstock)

IoT security, particularly concerning the growth of smart homes, is another major focus for McAfee, as hackers target poorly-secured connected devices that offer an easy way into a home or business network.

McAfee looks to provide security through its own Secure Home Platform, and Davis notes that many device makers are falling short when it comes to protecting their products.

“If you look at the mindset of manufacturers today,” he says, “most are solving for time-to-market convenience without worrying about security.”

“We’ve done disclosures for a lot of companies, who just haven’t done anything about it - the struggle we have today is that we’re trying to do (IoT security) as a service, not only to our community, but to the manufacturers as well.”

“We know there are going to be vulnerabilities in IoT,” Samani adds, “the question is, how are you as a company are going to deal with it?”

“I am hugely optimistic that (security) will become a market differentiator.”

Shared responsibility

 So with more threats facing connected businesses and homes than ever before, how can you stay on top of your security needs?

“There’s always going to be vulnerabilities,” Davis says, “and there’s no way you can expect products not to be vulnerable somehow.”

“(But) any organisation that connects anything has to be considering the security risk of that...it’s a shared responsibility.”

Maintaining an active outlook on the latest threats can be the key to ensuring you don’t get hit, with McAfee advising users to up their protection by frequently patching and changing passwords - alongside utilising their offerings.

“Everybody has something that matters to them, and it's our responsibility to enable them to protect what matters to them,” Davis notes.