Mobile phone with padlock and key

What is mobile security?

Mobile security is the term used for the various measures that protect mobile devices – such as smartphones and tablets, as well as their data and their associated networks – from unauthorised access or other forms of cyberattack.

Mobile device security measures safeguard any sensitive data stored on or transmitted by mobile devices, and have become crucial now that smartphones have become such an integral part of people’s daily lives.

Why is mobile security important?

Smartphones are everywhere, and have become essential for navigating the modern world. Whether it’s completing an online banking transaction or scanning a QR code to order at a restaurant, people are on their phones all the time – and that’s not even factoring in all of the personal and professional communication that happens on mobile devices, from emails and text messages, to social media apps.

It’s clear today’s phones have evolved beyond mere communication devices and are now repositories of personal, financial and professional information. The implications of mobile data breaches can be severe, including identity theft, data loss, loss of device functionality and financial loss. But by prioritising mobile security, individuals and organisations can mitigate these risks and maintain control over their digital lives.

Common threats to mobile security

There are a number of common risks to mobile security, and these can apply to any mobile device regardless of make or model:

  • Malware. Malicious software, commonly referred to as malware, poses a significant threat to mobile security. It can infiltrate devices through compromised apps, infected websites, or malicious links, allowing cybercriminals to gain access to sensitive data or even grant criminals control over the device.
  • Phishing attacks. Phishing is a technique used by cybercriminals to deceive people into revealing sensitive information such as passwords or credit card details. They often do this by disguising themselves as legitimate organisations in emails, SMS text messages, or on fake websites.
  • Public Wi-Fi networks. While convenient, public networks can be insecure and prone to digital eavesdropping. Hackers can intercept data transmitted over these networks, potentially gaining access to usernames, passwords and other confidential information.

There are also threats and scams that are more likely to target particular devices, such as Android or Apple devices.

Common threats to mobile security on Android devices

Android is the most-used operating system across mobile devices worldwide. It’s also a very open system – virtually anyone can create an app for Android, and it’s relatively straightforward to add an app to the Google Play Store. Because of this, Android devices are more susceptible to malicious mobile apps, which can contain hidden malware or gather sensitive data with a user’s knowledge or permission.

Android’s popularity also makes it a lucrative target for cybercriminals who want to exploit vulnerabilities in the operating system to bypass security measures and gain access to private data or control over a device.

Common threats to mobile security on Apple devices

Apple devices are locked down, which means that they’re less open to customisation when compared to products offered by Android, but it also means they’re better protected against cyber threats. Although Apple’s App Store has stringent security measures in place however, malicious apps occasionally manage to slip through. These apps may contain malware or engage in unauthorised data collection.

Another risk is known as jailbreaking. Jailbreaking an iPhone or iPad is often intentionally done by the owner of an Apple product in order to gain access to the device’s operating system and customise its interface or install software that’s unsupported or unavailable through Apple:

“Apple’s ‘walled garden’ approach to its software has always been in contrast to the variety of options provided by the Android OS for customization,” say cybersecurity experts Kaspersky. “A key motivation of many jailbreakers is to make iOS more like Android.”

Doing so, however, can make Apple’s security features more vulnerable and expose the device to security threats.

Common mobile security measures

While there are many threats to mobile security, there are also many safeguards that can protect mobile devices. These include:

  • Security software. There are a variety of antivirus programmes and platforms that can be installed to protect devices and personal data. These programmes typically target a host of common threats such as ransomware and spyware. Most devices also typically have their own built-in security systems that are developed by their providers, such as Microsoft orApple.
  • Authentication and encryption. Strong authentication mechanisms such as PINs, passwords, biometrics, or two-factor authentication add an extra layer of security to mobile devices. Encryption, meanwhile, ensures that data stored on devices or transmitted between devices over networks remains secure and unreadable to unauthorised parties while in transit.
  • Mobile device management (MDM) systems. Organisations can implement MDM solutions to manage and secure corporate-owned mobile devices. MDM enables IT or cybersecurity professionals to enforce security policies, remotely wipe data and control access to sensitive resources. These systems are typically seen as safer than what’s known as bring your own device (BYOD), which allows people to use their own devices for work. BYOD makes things like endpoint security, email security, and application security more difficult for organisations and can potentially expose them to increased risk.
  • Virtual private networks (VPNs). Using VPNs on mobile devices can be effective protection against unauthorised access to the device and its data. This is because VPNs effectively encrypt the connection between the device and the internet.

The future of mobile security

As technology continues to evolve, so do the threats to mobile security. This is why it’s important that individuals and organisations aim to stay one step ahead of cybercriminals, and that mobile security solutions continue to evolve and develop as well.

Ongoing areas of advancement include:

  • Biometric security. Biometric methods of authentication such as facial recognition and fingerprint scanning are already becoming commonplace. They typically offer more secure access to mobile devices because they don’t rely on passwords or PINs that can be shared or stolen.
  • Improved app security. App developers and stores continue to strengthen security measures to prevent the distribution of malicious apps and protect their users’ personal information.
  • Cloud security integration. Mobile devices are increasingly relying on cloud services, a trend that necessitates the robust integration of mobile and cloud security measures to collectively safeguard any data stored and accessed from the cloud.
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning. These technologies are expected to play a crucial role in detecting and mitigating mobile security threats by analysing patterns, identifying anomalies and proactively defending against attacks.

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