Protect Your Work Cell Phone

The biggest threat today of a potentially lost cell phone is having confidential and important data fall into the wrong hands. But experts warn that it’s only a matter of time before PDAs become as vulnerable as (if not more than) PCs and notebook computers to spyware and other viruses.

“Most of the viruses and malware we see out there is driven by financial motivation. It’s definitely moved beyond kids in a basement,” said Curtis Cresta, vice president and general manager, North American operations, at Finland-based F-Secure. “As smart phone users become more relevant they will be financially motivated to go after that.”

Today cell phones are for much more than making calls, such as surfing the web, accessing company networks and connecting to a host of other devices, opening up vulnerabilities that hackers can take advantage of.

According to Khoi Nguyen, a group product manager at Cupertino, California-based Symantec, threats to mobile phone users come in many different flavors.

There’s snoopwear, in which a hacker can remotely activate the mobile phone’s microphone to listen to conversations, remotely access the built-in camera to take pictures or videos and access all the text messages on the phone. Some other threats seek financial gain, such as mobile phishing attacks, where a hacker will try to steal online login credentials or credit-card information. And malware is out there that can send hundreds or thousands of SMS messages that cause big phone-bill charges at the end of the month.

“It’s not at the same level as on the PC side, but people are being impacted by this across the globe,” said Nguyen.

So what is a small business owner to do? According to security experts, being aware of the threat is an important first step to protection. While most people are cognizant of threats when using a PC or laptop, they aren’t as aware of dangers lurking in cell phones.

“Be very careful what you download onto a mobile device,” said Peter Beardmore, senior product marketing manager at Kaspersky Lab, the Russian security software company. “Make sure it’s a trusted publisher.” Beardmore said mobile phone users should download mobile-security software. Kaspersky offers programs that sells for $29.95 per year for consumers, and also has specific plans for businesses.

Today most antivirus software can be downloaded from the Web. But F-Secure’s Cresta said the industry is moving toward the cell providers offering a protection plan to small businesses as part of an overall package, similar to what’s happening in Europe. F-Secure’s software for individual consumer use, Mobile Security, costs $39.99 for one year, while its annual F-Secure Mobile Security for Business subscription costs $13.50 per user for 100-499 units.

Symantec’s Nguyen said small business mobile phone users should enable password protection on all devices. In the event one is lost or stolen, a remote lock-and-wipe command can instantly erase all data on it and lock it down. Symantec offers its Norton Smart Phone Security software, whichs sells for $29.99. Once the software is installed on the phone, it’s important to make sure it’s always updated and has the latest patches.

“In most cases these threats are leveraged through vulnerabilities. The vulnerabilities are closed through a patch,” said Nguyen. “A lot of people don’t realize these types of threats exist, so they are a little less cautious.”