AVG (AU/NZ) Pty Ltd, the distributor of the award-winning AVG Internet and mobile security software in Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific, is alerting mobile device users to update their security to protect against the latest cyber crime threat: mobile Zombies.
As Halloween revelers turn themselves into the familiar fantasy version of these creatures, smartphones and tablets across the planet are being fully equipped by remote cyber-criminals to take actions against key personal, commercial and governmental assets – long before they can be effectively tracked.
A Zombie is an Internet-enabled computing device that has been hacked to perform tasks under instructions from others. Most owners of zombie devices have no idea their system literally lies in wait to be called into a range of actions, such as:
- Click fraud – waged against sites displaying pay-per-click advertising, essentially stealing from online retailers
- Denial-of-service attacks – the orchestrated flooding of target internet addresses by a large number of computers to crash it and prevent access from legitimate users, often aiming to take down popular websites
- Debilitating spam – spammers avoid detection and pass bandwidth costs to device owners
- Harvesting of personally identifiable information (identity theft)
- Spreading and/or updating new malware
- Sending SMS to premium numbers with high charges
Michael McKinnon, Security Advisor to AVG (AU/NZ), says: “We are expecting to see an increasing number of smartphones and tablets turned into Zombies. Many users are not aware that they need to protect their mobile devices with the same comprehensive anti-virus and Internet security as they do their PCs. Because there are so many owners who take zero mobile security precautions, they have inadvertently created a powerful medium for sophisticated attacks against key elements of our infrastructure. It’s not just the stuff of Halloween.”
In addition to installing security specific to mobile devices, such as AVG’s free Mobilation solution for Android smartphones and tablets, McKinnon advises users to run the latest ‘firmware’. Android users need to use the built-in software update feature in their settings menu, and iPhone users need to connect their phone to a computer running the latest iTunes software.
Mobile device owners should also be selective about which apps they install. For Android users this means only those available from the official Android Marketplace, and iPhone users should not use a 'jail broken' device which allows applications to be installed outside the Apple App Store.
Indications of a Zombie infection include any sudden or unusual changes in the behaviour of the device such as poor battery life, apps that are slow to respond, or new pop-up messages.
McKinnon says: “Unlike many of the current mobile security threats that favour having the phone use a premium SMS service which is clearly going to show up on the phone bill, most Zombie attacks can be much more subtle and very hard to detect.”
Installing a mobile security solution like Mobilation as a preventative measure provides the advantage of being alerted to the presence of any malicious apps before they have a chance to cause damage. If the installation is onto a phone that is already infected by a Zombie, the user will be alerted to its presence. But McKinnon warns that there are cases where it will be necessary to wipe the phone completely to ensure a complete clean.“While detection is important, prevention is best,” McKinnon concludes.