Smartphones added to criminal target list

MONTREAL, Que. — As usual, we can expect the Internet to be rife with potential cyber crimes and annoyances next year — more spam, more fake antivirus software and more computers hijacked by criminals.

MONTREAL, Que. — As usual, we can expect the Internet to be rife with potential cyber crimes and annoyances next year — more spam, more fake antivirus software and more computers hijacked by criminals.

But 2010 will also see more attacks moving to smartphones, now that the devices are being used more like mobile computers, predict security experts.

What’s expected to be targeted are “apps” — software applications that let users do things like mobile banking and payments, as well as any other personal or work information on their smartphones.

“Attackers will probably be devoting more time to creating malware for those devices,” said David Cowings of Symantec Security Response.

The move to smartphones is natural because many users have them synchronized with their computers to allow better access to email, contacts and work documents that often contain a wealth of information.

These kinds of cyber attacks could infect both the smartphone and the PC, said Cowings, senior manager of operations in Austin, Texas.

Dennis Fisher of U.S.-based Kaspersky Labs said so far there have mostly been “very low level” pieces of malware that have blocked smartphones or changed their screen savers.

But, as more people adopt smartphones which also let users surf the Internet, stream video and listen to music, they will become more of a target in the coming decade, he said.

“It seems like people are a little less careful with them than they might be with their laptop computers,” said Fisher, a security spokesman for Kaspersky.

“They don’t tend to think of it as a real computer, which it is.”

There have been recent reports of an iPhone worm that has affected Apple devices modified to remove restrictions on the software they can run.

On the Internet front, botnets, or global networks of infected computers unknowingly controlled by cyber criminals, also are on the rise and becoming more significant.

“They are becoming the foundation for cyber crimes,” Cowings said.

Alexandru Catalin Cosoi of Romanian-based BitDefender said there will be more competition among criminals who use botnets to steal personal and financial information.

They will say their service is the best and they “will take down a site to prove it,” he said.

Cosoi said he expects more discretion from some cyber criminals as they siphon off money from people’s accounts.

“I think the trend is to steal less — small amounts of money — but continuously, to draw less attention to themselves,” said Cosoi, a senior antispam and antiphishing researcher based in Bucharest.

As for social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and the like, they too will continue to be targeted through URL links to other websites, and more sophisticated but fake friends and followers.

“I think you’re going to see it in more clever, better disguised ways,” said Fisher.

For example, an automated tweet could say, “I just went to the gym and had a great run,” and there will be similar tweets to attract followers, Fisher said. Gradually, tweets will include links to malicious web pages.

Social network users should ask senders of URLs what’s in them before linking to them, he said.

Security analysts also say fake anti-virus software will continue to be peddled next year, getting consumers to disclose credit card information and making their PCs vulnerable to attack or being unknowingly controlled.

What of the Conficker worm that wiggled into the news again last spring and has infected millions of computers, allowing criminals to sell fake security software to make money?

It will be back again in 2010, experts say.

As for spam, the granddaddy of all Internet annoyances. It will be back, too, on social networking sites and especially on electronic mail.

“As long as there is email, there is going to be spam,” said Cosoi.

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