Mobile devices have become integral to our daily lives, serving as a hub for communication, productivity, and entertainment. Mobile phones are also increasingly used to pay for goods and services, acting as mobile wallets. Because of their widespread adoption and increasing capabilities, mobile devices are a prime target for cyber criminals.

We will examine why mobile devices are a security threat to your organization. We will also explore ways to mitigate the risks.

Here are several reasons why mobile devices pose a cybersecurity threat:

Increased Attack Surface: Mobile devices are equipped with various communication technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Near Field Communication (NFC), and cellular networks. Each of these channels provides an entry point for cyber attacks.

Hackers can exploit vulnerabilities in these technologies to gain unauthorized access to devices, intercept communications, or inject malware.

Proliferation of Mobile Malware: Mobile malware has witnessed a steady rise in recent years. Malicious apps, infected attachments, and compromised websites can lead to the installation of malware on mobile devices.

Once installed, malware can steal sensitive data, track user location and activities, hijack device functions, send premium-rate SMS messages, or even turn the device into a bot (software application programmed to perform specific tasks) for cyber criminal activities.

Operating System Vulnerabilities: Mobile devices run on complex operating systems like iOS and Android. These systems are constantly evolving, and vulnerabilities are discovered regularly. Attackers can exploit these vulnerabilities to gain root access, install malicious apps, or compromise the device's security features.

App Store and Third-Party App Risks: Mobile devices rely heavily on apps, and their popularity makes them attractive targets for cyber criminals. Some apps may have inadequate security, such as weak data encryption, improper data handling, or excessive data and personal information collection practices.

Moreover, malicious apps can be disguised as legitimate ones and can be downloaded from spoofed app stores or via responses to phishing messages. These apps may contain malware that can steal sensitive information, track user activity, or even take control of the device.

Unsecured Wi-Fi Networks: Mobile device users frequently connect to public Wi-Fi networks, such as those found in cafes, airports, and hotels. These networks are often unsecured, making it easier for attackers to intercept data transmitted between the device and the network. This can result in unauthorized access to personal information, login credentials, and financial information.

Public places are also known to be used for malicious purposes via “free charging stations.” Be wary of using any free charging station in a public place. Cyber criminals have learned how to hijack these USB ports (and cables) to insert data into your mobile device using what cyber experts call “juice jacking.” FCC: Juice Jacking Tips to Avoid It

Jailbreaking or Rooting: Jailbreaking (iOS) and Rooting (Android) refer to bypassing device restrictions to gain additional functionality or access to unauthorized apps. This is usually done by technically savvy individuals who consider themselves to be very clever, but in fact, are acting unwisely. These practices remove built-in security measures, leaving devices more vulnerable to malware and unauthorized access.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Risks: The widespread adoption of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies in workplaces introduces additional cybersecurity risks. When employees use their personal devices for work purposes, it becomes challenging for organizations to enforce security policies and ensure that devices are adequately protected. This can result in the compromise of sensitive corporate data or unauthorized access to corporate networks.

Social Engineering Attacks: Mobile devices are often used to access social media, email, and messaging, making them susceptible to social engineering attacks. Attackers can exploit human vulnerabilities to trick users into revealing sensitive information or clicking on malicious links, leading to compromised devices or stolen credentials. (See Blog: The Evolving Cybersecurity Threat Landscape.)

Physical Loss or Theft: Mobile devices are highly portable, which increases the risk of physical loss or theft. If an unauthorized person acquires a lost or stolen device, they may gain access to sensitive data stored on the device such as logins to financial sites (banking, credit cards), or even use it as a gateway to corporate networks.

Insufficient User Awareness and Practices: Many mobile device users are unaware of potential security risks and fail to adopt proper security practices. These include using weak or easily guessable passwords, connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi networks, downloading apps from untrusted sources, and granting excessive permissions to apps without considering their security implications.


Mitigating Mobile Device Security Risks

To mitigate the cybersecurity risks associated with mobile devices, organizations and individuals should implement the following best practices:

1. Keep software and apps up to date with the latest security patches.

2. Only download apps from trusted sources, such as official app stores.

3. Enable strong authentication mechanisms, such as biometrics, strong passwords, and two-factor authentication (2FA).

4. Install reputable mobile security software to detect and prevent malware. This may include:

  • Anti-virus, anti-malware, etc. solutions.
  • Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This may be a good solution for you, but there are differing expert opinions as to whether or not the general public needs one. PC Magazine: What is a VPN

5. Limit use to only secure and encrypted Wi-Fi networks.

6. Buy and use a data blocker if you use public charging stations.

The only way to safely use any public charging station is to buy and use a data blocker. These devices allow you to charge your device but do not allow any data to pass from the charging station into your mobile device. This small device or cable is inserted into the charging station, and you then connect to the charging station with the data blocker in between your mobile device and the charging station. Nerdy Tech: Best USB Data Blockers

7. Encrypt sensitive data stored on mobile devices.

8. Go to your mobile device's Privacy and Security settings and take the time to review (and manage) the data access you’ve most likely (unknowingly) granted to many of the Apps installed on your device.

Specifically for businesses and organizations:

9. Implement remote wipe capabilities to erase data in case of loss or theft.

10. Educate users about mobile security best practices and the risks of social engineering attacks.

11. Implement Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) solutions for centralized device management and security controls.

12. Establish and enforce BYOD policies that outline security requirements and procedures.

By adopting these measures, organizations and individuals can enhance the security of mobile devices and reduce the risk of falling victim to mobile-based cyber threats.

Mobile devices have become an attractive target for cyber criminals due to their widespread usage and the valuable data they contain. They are also valuable targets because they can act as a gateway to personal financial sites and even corporate networks.

Users need to prioritize security best practices to mitigate the cybersecurity threats associated with mobile devices. (Read Blog: The Evolving Cybersecurity Threat Landscape.)

Enabling encryption, keeping software up to date, downloading apps from only trusted sources, practicing safe browsing, and implementing strong authentication methods are essential for everyone.

In addition, businesses and organizations must provide ongoing education and awareness about mobile device security risks and empower users to make informed decisions and protect their devices and data. They must also create and enforce robust BYOD policies and implement MDM.

Topic: Cybersecurity Risk Management: Frameworks, Threat Landscape, and Best Practices