SAN JOSE, Calif.--McAfee expects mobile threats to continue along the trends set in the PC world, moving from simple monetary gain towards deep privacy loss, corporate espionage and cyber war, according to a company representative.
Speaking at a Design West panel entitled “Angry Robots and Rotten Apples,” McAfee engineer Ryan Permeh said the threats affecting mobile devices are “real and serious” and are moving beyond the simple malware seen in the space thus far.
Discussing the implications of multi-platform dynamic mobile botnets, Permeh said the impact of long term compromise of a mobile device could be severe, allowing an attacker to go anywhere the owner goes.
“They can listen in, collect all sorts of sensitive data, and use the mobile phone as a bridge into sensitive networks,” he said, adding that current protection strategies from Apple and Google just did not go deep enough to stop the threats.
“Smartphones have become extensions to our lives, both in work and play. They are our constant companions and keepers of our secrets,” said Permeh, noting that the “bad guys” had begun to realize this and make ever more serious attempts to compromise devices in any way possible.
Permeh said that even though the current round of threats are probably more focused on quick turnaround for monetary gain, the broad deployment of devices opens up a plethora of new avenues that could unlock long term value for an attacker.
“The combination of an increasingly competent adversary paired with an environment blocked by vendors and tradition from those who would serve as protectors is a powder keg waiting to happen,” said Permeh, adding that understanding current threats, as well as their history, offered McAfee a better understanding of how to protect billions of devices.
Part of McAfee’s plan of attack is embodied in a new initiative the firm is calling “Trace” which focuses in on threats that haven’t yet become part of the general threat landscape, in an effort to build understanding and protection proactively.
The method relies on using the same concepts, techniques and technologies available to would be hackers, with McAfee’s team looking for new areas of vulnerability and methods to plug those holes.
In terms of relative security, iOS was by far the more secure platform, said Permeh, admitting that “Apple is blowing Android out of the water,” and that Google needed a much better bouncer to reduce “evil apps” and other threat vectors.
“Historically, Android has been beaten up more than Apple, because it’s open and that unfortunately makes it more susceptible to malware,” he said, outlining some of the more common threats.These ranged from malware hidden in marketplace apps, to alternate marketplaces and even sideloading, which is allowed on the Android platform.
There are also, said Permeh, “Ddive-by exploits” which exploit webkits and app related bugs.
“Premium SMS is by far the most lucrative malware scheme,” said Permeh, though he noted that data collection and function hijacking was also on the rise.
Meanwhile, on Apple’s iOS, malware can only really target jailbroken iPhones and apps, without much more in the way of any “direct evil in public," he said.
“Apple spends a lot of time cleaning up after itself,” said Permeh, before showing the audience a couple of demos attacks on both platforms for prevention hacking learning purposes.
“You have to think like a bad guy,” said Permeh, emphasizing that McAfee would never publish anything that could be considered hostile, but noting that awareness was key to dealing with the problem at its roots.
“Intel is very serious about becoming a major Android player, and as such, both Intel and McAfee are having to take a fresh new look at how to deal with Malware,” he concluded.