Smartphones need antivirus protection too: computer experts

Cyberattacks on smartphones are expected to increase this year, but experts say most users have no idea their gadgets need protection

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2013, 5:28am


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Almost 90 per cent of smartphone users are unaware of the need to install antivirus applications on their phones, computer experts have warned.

The advice - said to be especially crucial for those with Android gadgets - came as the Computer Emergency Response Team Co-ordination Centre said it had received more than 1,150 reports of security and virus incidents throughout last year. This is 30 per cent more than that in 2011 and the highest since 2009.

The centre, operated under the Productivity Council, said most incidents involved hacking, followed by phishing attempts by leading users to fake websites, and defacement of websites by intruders. All categories recorded an increase from a year ago.

While incidents under the new smartphone category were relatively fewer - with just 18 reported incidents - experts said most users had no idea that smartphones, like computers, also required antivirus software.

Last year, the centre published a record 429 alerts in response to software companies' announcements of security loopholes in their products. This was a sign there was now more room for hackers to strike.

"We advise that all smartphone users download antivirus applications," said Leung Siu-cheong, a senior consultant at the centre. "For 2013, new signs of information security threats are emerging with an expected rise in … advanced malware. New technologies - such as the growing popular near-field communication on mobile devices and cloud computing - while offering versatile applications, may also present new security risks."

While the centre does not have a figure on how many smartphones are under antivirus protection, Leung said it "would not be surprising to know that less than 10 per cent of users have [such protection]".

Smartphone users are vulnerable to malicious applications, often presented as entertaining games or useful tools that are usually free of charge but have viruses attached, he added.

These viruses can, among other things, secretly install monitoring software on affected phones, through which hackers can have long-term access to the phone owners' information.

Information technology sector lawmaker Charles Mok agreed with the centre's prediction that attacks on smartphone could see an increase this year.

Mok urged the centre to release a list of "reliable" antivirus applications for smartphones. "Users may be confused when they browse [online stores] with so many unheard-of brands," he said. "Worse, some of these apps may even carry viruses."