Mobile phone security is a growing headache in most European markets

26 Nov 2008

Mobile operators should seize the opportunity to educate subscribers on the dangers of mobile spam and security leaks via smart phones, before the problem becomes endemic.

A study of mobile use in the largest mobile markets by comScore M:Metrics, on behalf of Airwide Solutions, has highlighted the security hazards posed by mobile devices, in particular mobile spam.

The study found that there is still some way to go, with the number of people in the EU receiving unwanted text messages growing 21.3pc year on year. With some spam messages containing mobile worms and viruses, this statistic is cause for concern, especially in France where the problem is growing by 61.3pc year on year.

The study also revealed worrying findings into the use of gambling and adult services by under-18 year-olds. In total, Spain recorded the biggest problem with 4pc of 13 to 17 year- olds accessing adult or gambling services between June 2007 and June 2008.

The UK recorded the lowest problem, with only 1.3pc of minors accessing inappropriate mobile internet sites. However, the study also notes that the figures may mask a more serious situation, with many teenagers embarrassed or frightened to admit the truth.

With many people now owning smart phones, mobile phones are also being used to safeguard sensitive company information and personal data such as social security numbers, PIN codes, passwords, company financial data and other proprietary information. Many people are also now using them to carry out financial transactions.

According to the study, 5.6 million people in the EU access financial information from their mobile phones – a 23.6pc jump from the same time last year. Italy has been the fastest to embrace mobile banking services, with a 30.2pc increase in use from June 2007 to June 2008. When we consider that mobile phones are stolen in half of all robberies in just the UK alone, the need to protect this sensitive financial data has never been greater.

“Mobile security is a threat that is continuously growing: pretending it is not an issue does not address the problem,” Jay Seaton, chief marketing officer at Airwide Solutions, explained.

“With significant increases in the use of mobiles phones, both for personal and corporate use, mobile subscribers, parents and corporate organisations will need guarantees that their phones and data are secured.

“Whether to protect vulnerable users such as children with mobiles for family contact, or to support corporates in fulfilling their duty-of-care to employees, operators are increasingly accepting a service responsibility to subscribers. This is an opportunity for fast moving operators to be on the forefront of addressing and ultimately containing this problem”.

What the study has made clear is that mobile phones have now become a vital part of the way we live. Mobile phones are now far more omnipresent than personal computers, inherently more portable than other communications devices and carry far more personal and valuable data than ever before.

In fact, on average a mobile phone in the EU is worth €476.07, with a mobile subscriber spending €401 a year on their mobile phone bill, €69 acquiring their handset and €6.07 on mobile content (ringtones, wallpaper, games, music, etc).

Spain registered the highest spending on mobile phone bills (with phone users spending on average €544 per year), Italy recorded the highest spending on the handsets themselves (with an Italian mobile-phone user paying on average €148 for a mobile phone) and the UK topped the poll on the amount spent on mobile content per year.

The survey also found that while we are using our phones to take more photos and record more videos, we are at risk of losing these precious personal memories as the majority of people surveyed (50.0pc across Europe) do not back up their data.

“This study proves that we all need to take the issue of mobile security seriously,” Alistair Hill, analyst at comScore M:Metrics, explained. “Just from the research we carried out, it is clear that we rely on our mobile phones to carry out a large percentage of our daily tasks. Ensuring we are protected from security risks is paramount.”

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years