How Mobile Security Works

Mobile Security Risks and Alerts

Malware is a constant threat to mobile devices.
Malware is a constant threat to mobile devices.
Yuji Sakai/Getty Images

Malware continues to be the most dangerous threat to mobile device users. As we discussed on the previous page, malware is malicious software code that can steal sensitive information like passwords and account numbers, rack up charges on your phone bill, or spread itself through your address book like a virus. According to Web security firm Juniper Networks, malware attacks on mobile devices rose 250 percent from 2009 to 2010 and 400 percent from 2010 to 2011 [source: Juniper Networks].

Loss and theft are two serious security threats to mobile devices. As devices get smaller, they become easier and easier to lose. And the more we rely on these devices to send and store messages, access our bank accounts and conduct business, the greater the consequences if they fall into the wrong hands. Two of the most effective mobile security measures are remote lock and remote wipe. Enterprise mobile security systems invariably include this feature, which allows a user or an IT administrator to lock the phone if lost, and even to wipe its entire memory remotely. Many devices also include GPS tracking features to locate the phone or even activate "screaming" alarms that can be heard from the bottom of a user's laundry basket.

Network security is less of a threat, since most communications over cellular data networks are strongly encrypted. One remaining threat is communicating over an unencrypted WiFi network. Be careful when sending e-mails or texts over a public WiFi network at the local café. It's possible that a WiFi "sniffer" could be listening in on the traffic and trolling for useful information.

Other security threats are common to anyone who uses e-mail or the Web. In a phishing scam, for example, a hacker will send an email posing as a legitimate bank or business and ask for the user to enter his password or some other piece of sensitive account information. As more people access their e-mail from mobile devices, they need to use the same caution they would at home or the office.

Now let's look at one of the most potentially lucrative targets for malicious hackers: mobile banking.