Top 9 Smartphone Security Threats in 2022

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Over 90% of the world's population has a mobile device, and over 50% of internet traffic is mobile users. Smartphones are a huge market for developers and marketers that want quick and direct access to millions of people worldwide. But unfortunately, it also brings a high risk from cybercriminals looking for ways to access your information.

There are four main categories that mobile users should be aware of in terms of security:

  • Device threats - Physical threats include the theft or loss of a device that contains sensitive information
  • Network threats - Unencrypted data is particularly vulnerable when using public WiFi networks
  • Mobile app threats - This can happen when innocent-looking apps are used to steal personal information
  • Web-based threats - Visiting some sites can result in malicious content being downloaded onto devices

This article will list the most pressing mobile security threats to be aware of and how to protect your mobile devices against them.

1. Phishing & smishing

Phishing and smishing are social engineering attacks that see the intended target receive an email (phishing) or text (smishing). These emails or texts try to trick users into sharing personal information or downloading malicious software onto their devices.

How to protect against social engineering attacks

The best way to avoid attacks like these is by being aware of what they look like and not responding to them. If you receive an email or text from a bank or other business looking for information or even payment, contact the organisation by independently finding a contact number or email. Never use the one provided in the email or text.

Businesses can also minimise risk by limiting the number of people with sensitive information and training their staff on what to look for.

2. Internet of Things (IoT) devices

IoT Devices, or Internet of Things Devices, are any devices that you connect to the internet. These include mobile devices, wearable tech, smart TVs, cameras, fridges, washing machines, Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri.

While having all your devices connected and synched offers ease and convenience, it also offers more ways for a criminal to breach your privacy.

How to protect against IoT threats

Using IAM (identity and access management) and MDM (mobile device management) tools will help you protect your devices from shadow threats. Businesses and organisations will have their own policies regarding what devices can be used on their network to ensure their security.

3. Mobile spyware

Spyware is a way for your data to be mined and is usually downloaded onto a device after the user clicks on malicious content, usually a 'maladvertisement'.

Simply clicking on adverts can lead to spyware installation on a device, leaving it susceptible to your data being surveyed or collected.

How to protect against spyware

Try to avoid sites where pop-ups and advertisements are present. If they do appear, you should exit without clicking on them. It is possible to install security apps such as ESET mobile security for Android to protect the device and remove spyware. You should also update your operating system to help counteract these threats.4 - End-to-end encryption gaps

Unencrypted apps or WiFi networks can provide gaps in your protection that cybercriminals can exploit to gather sensitive information.

Encryption gaps are easy to miss when you spend a lot of time securing your connection on mobile devices. The result can be the same whether the breakdown comes via the service provider or the systems you use.

How to protect against end-to-end encryption gaps

To ensure end-to-end encryption, you should take the time to check with the service provider you are using, as well as with the services on the other end. If all services are encrypted, this will provide a more secure network for personal or business use.

5. Poor password habits

Poor password habits are one of the most obvious ways that the wrong kind of people gain access to systems and personal information - it's one of the biggest mobile security threats and easily avoided.

It is drilled into everyone who uses a computer not to use the same password for everything and not make it too simple. Still, with a growing number of passwords needed to access multiple systems, sometimes people take shortcuts.

If a password you are using on multiple systems is easy to remember, the chances are it is a weak option.

Whether you are using a personal account or a business one, poor password habits could make it easier for you to become a victim of cybercrime.

How to protect against poor password habits

Several suggestions will help you ensure good password practice and keep your systems secure. 

The length of your password should be at least eight characters and should contain:

  • Numbers
  • A mixture of upper and lowercase letters
  • At least one unique character

Studies show that most passwords that do this will start with a letter and end with a unique character, so try shaking things up a bit.

It shouldn't contain anything like your name or the business and should not contain any sequence that might be easy to guess.

Though some recommendations and business systems call for regular password changes, this can be detrimental to good password practice. Frequent password changes can lead the user to fall into the trap of making it easier to remember or use a sequence.

SSO or single sign-on technology is another excellent way to manage multiple systems securely. Several sites now offer secure SSO services. If your business or organisation requires access to a lot of systems, it can be a great way to ensure safety across all staff.

SSO technology works by allowing the user to set up a password, username and another form of authentication. Once logged into this system, they will have automatic access to all further services selected.

Though this will be costly to implement, it guarantees additional security and protection for the organisation, its staff, and customers.

6. Physical device loss or theft

More devices have increased the risk of misplaced or stolen company or personal property.

Though this has always been a risk, the rise in remote working in recent years and the importance of mobile devices and apps for managing personal or company finances makes losing your device one of the more serious mobile security threats.

How to protect against lost or stolen mobile devices being hacked

Simple procedures like not leaving your phone unguarded, securing bags, or removing it from vehicles are all tried and tested ways of avoiding theft. Still, if the worst happens and mobile phones or other devices are stolen or misplaced, there are ways to protect sensitive data.

You should always activate services available on mobile devices that allow remote access or the ability to delete sensitive information. Some services will let you know where the device is if it has been stolen or lost. If a device has been stolen, it is not advised to recover this yourself as it could be dangerous. You should contact the relevant authorities with any information you have.

Companies should either ensure mobile apps and services are set up for users or insist that users do this on their work and personal devices.

7. Unsecured public WiFi

With more people relying on public WiFi networks, whether for personal or business use, it opens devices up to "man in the middle" attacks.

Some scammers have been known to create their own public WiFi hotspots for the sole purpose of mining data that passes through the system, gaining unauthorised access to your device. It's one of the biggest web-based mobile threats for those using mobiles in public places.

How to protect against unsecured WiFi connections

The best way to protect against unsecured public WiFi is by not using it. If you can avoid it, it is probably best to unless you can guarantee it is from a legitimate source.

Alternatively, you can use a VPN to access files or systems to keep the session secure and private when you are using a public network.

8. Operating system updates

The vast majority of people might ignore one or two notifications letting them know that their operating system is ready to be upgraded. It can take a bit of time for the update to complete, and most people will want to wait for a convenient time to do this so they are not left offline.

While this is perfectly understandable, delaying your update could put your device at risk. Operating system updates are used to address potential vulnerabilities. As cybercrime develops and new ways are explored to make it easier to hack a device or access information, system operators work hard to close down these potential avenues.

So, although it might not seem like one of the biggest mobile security threats, keeping your mobile operating systems updated regularly can help keep you safe.

How to protect against out of date operating systems

Checking for updates and responding to notifications when they come through is vital in protecting against mobile security threats. Businesses can often push updates through Apple and Google to iOS and Android devices or use third-party tools. Outlining employee responsibilities and communicating with staff when operating system updates are rolled out is also essential.

9. Data leakage via apps

Even after taking every measure suggested to ensure your mobile devices are secure from a security threat, there are still ways for criminals to gain unauthorised access.

One such way is through malicious apps or apps that are not adequately protected against a mobile security threat. Even those downloaded from official app stores can be vulnerable and contain mobile malware, so being alert is critical.

Scammers can target mobile devices through unprotected mobile apps. When granting permission to new apps, you can inadvertently give scammers access to valuable, sensitive personal or business information.

The app you downloaded might even work as expected, leaving you completely unaware of the threat.

Many apps are not secured to a high standard, allowing hackers to use the apps to mine data, steal digital wallets, or retrieve other valuable information.

How to protect against data leakage via malicious apps

Knowing what apps are fully secure and the apps that have the potential to threaten the security of your mobile device is challenging.

Taking the time to research and do your due diligence is time-consuming, and you might not even find the information you need about stopping mobile malware through apps.

Free apps carry a higher risk due to the costs involved in entirely securing them. But that does not mean an increased risk every time you download apps for free.

The best way to protect your mobile device or business from malicious apps is by using MAM tools. MAM or mobile application management tools give your business IT admins access to the apps and control permissions.

Secure your mobile from security threats

As smartphone technology adapts and develops, so do mobile device security threats. Mobile security has never been as important on work or personal devices because of the access to confidential information they provide.

Keeping up to date with potential security threats and taking the necessary measures is essential in protecting your information.

It is also crucial to teach children about internet security and protect them. More and more kids have mobile phones and tablets to keep in touch with their parents and friends, play games, watch videos, and use as a learning tools. But this opens up another window of opportunity for scammers.

Protecting children from inappropriate content, scammers, or predators is a key task and antivirus for Android devices can help. Managing the time your child spends on specific apps and using features that allow you to track your child's activity are just some of the available options for parents with the ESET parental control app for Android devices.

Managing cybersecurity can seem like a daunting task when you consider the number of mobile threats and security software available to combat them. Some of the security challenges in mobile devices come because of the vast number of applications available. Mobile vulnerability, mobile security challenges, and smartphone privacy issues are partly due to the device's versatility.

Whether you use smartphones and tablets for personal use or you use them to store and work with corporate data, learning about common mobile security threats will help keep you and your data safe.