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Smartphones are the modern personal computer for many people. It is where we do our online banking, email our boss, share documents with our team members, download tools, ask Google questions, etc. This is a lot of responsibility for the compact piece of hardware you carry around precariously in your back pocket! Especially since today your smartphone is a direct target for a cyber attack.

2017: the year of the cyber attack

2017 is written into the history books as the year of the cyber attack. Headlines of newspapers across the globe were routinely stamped with the latest IT security breach. In the end, the diagnosis was clear – the rate of cyber attacks had doubled since 2016. According to Kaspersky, mobile ransomware attacks increased by 253% in Q1 of 2017. We believe this trend is set to continue, as organisations learn from past mistakes and tighten their security policies, thereby forcing cybercriminals to seek out alternative vulnerabilities.

Types of mobile malware


Check Point SandBlast Mobile data from 850 organisations (July 2016 – July 2017)

Mobile attacks are occurring across every type of industry, however financial and government bodies are targeted the most. Given that these are the organisations in which we entrust our most valuable assets and data, this is a no-brainer. These cyber attacks, which at one time would arrive in the simple form of a dodgy URL, now have become much more sophisticated, often using multiple points of attack rather than just one.

Chain attack

Chain-attacks are a sophisticated type of mobile attack that occurs in stages. Firstly a dropper is unintentionally introduced to the device by the mobile user who believes they are downloading a completely innocent app. Usually the dropper won’t appear to do anything for a while. However, its purpose is to launch the next stage of the attack.

The exploit pack is the second step which accesses root privileges in the device, giving the malware access to sensitive data. Remember the text box that appears when you are downloading an app from the Google app store which explicitly tells you what permissions the app requires? This is to protect you from handing over complete control of your device to potentially malicious apps.

The next stage is dubbed the malicious payload, and this is when the malware sinks in its claws and begins disrupting the normal functioning of your device so to gain whatever it is the cybercriminals are after.  That is why this stage can vary a lot, as the malware can have different purposes.

At this point, a backdoor component can be used by cybercriminals to access the device remotely, controlling the device in real-time. Persistency watchdogs can also make it extremely hard to remove the malicious app, often triggering automatic re-instalment if removal is attempted.

Banking malware

Do you conduct banking activities on your mobile? If you do, you’re not alone. In fact, 58% of people in Ireland use internet banking. However, the price for convenience can be high if you do not protect your details from malicious activity. In many of these cases, Trojans are used to access the users banking details. Trojans are a type of malware which, as the name suggests, hide within pieces of software which otherwise seem harmless. Keylogger functionality allows the Trojan to steal any text entered into the phone by hacking accessibility tools designed to be used by individuals with disabilities.

Mobile ransomware

This is when you are held to ransom by cybercriminals who have gained access to sensitive data on your mobile or have locked you out of your device entirely. Often the payment method requested for the releasing of the data/device is requested in the form of cryptocurrency. In some cases, a message will appear on your screen claiming you have been acting unlawfully during your online activity and a local authority is requesting you pay a fine.

Mobile spyware

mSpy is the name of a legitimate company that enables parents to monitor their children’s activity on a mobile and computer. While already being a controversial software, in 2015 it was hacked with innumerable text messages, emails, payment details and location data made instantly available on the dark web.

Similar types of software can be easily bought on the dark web and used for spying and acquiring sensitive information from infiltrated devices. Often how mobile users realise something is not right is because this kind of software can run down the device’s battery.

SMS trojans

SMS Trojans intercept the sending and receiving of SMS messages. What typically occurs is that SMS messages with a high fee attached are sent from the messenger without the user being aware. Alternatively, banking Trojans intercept SMS messages which contain banking details so to copy them and send them on to the cybercriminals.

Mobile adware

No one likes pesky popups anyway, but some of these advertisements are more than a mere annoyance. Maladvertising, as it has come to be called, is the use of online advertising to spread malware. Malicious ads can come from many different sources: a browser, an app or a video ad. Sometimes they will appear to be an update for an app you already have or masquerade as an anti-virus warning. The more sophisticated ones will pop up while you are in the middle of updating other apps, consequently tricking you into installing it.

How do you protect your smartphone from various types of mobile attack?

In a nutshell, we recommend a high degree of consciousness as well as purchasing antivirus and anti-malware solutions. Whether you are buying a new app online, browsing the internet, reading SMS messages or inputting banking details, it is important to always be aware of the risks you may encounter. By only using trusted sources, questioning any unexpected behaviour on your device and only providing sensitive data when it is absolutely necessary, a lot of mobile attacks can be avoided. However, for the more sophisticated attacks, established and trusted anti-virus products are essential.

Worried your enterprise’s IT security isn’t up to scratch? At Unity, we provide managed IT security services tailored to your specific needs. Get in contact with us today to discuss your options.