Mobile operators concerned by growing malware threat

13 Feb 2007

Mobile network operators are increasingly feeling the impact of viruses and security threats that are already very familiar to computer users, new research has found.

According to a study by Informa Telecoms & Media, sponsored by McAfee, 83pc of operators have been hit by mobile device infections. In addition, the number of reported security incidents last year was more than five times as high as in 2005.

The amount of time and money needed to repair the damage is also increasing, the research found. The number of mobile operators that spent more than US$200k on mobile security in 2006 rose by 100pc compared to 2005. Moreover, the time taken has also risen dramatically – a 700pc increase in operators saying it took more than 1,000 man hours to fix a problem.

Operators are worried about the impact that mobile security could have on their business. Almost 80pc rated the public relations impact or an effect on their brand as of high concern. Many also fear a loss of credibility in how reliable new services are. This is especially important as mobile providers look to earn more revenue from customers who use these services.

Almost one in three respondents (29pc) said that the greatest impact from a security incident was in subscriber satisfaction rather than revenue. The second most serious impact from mobile malware infections was on network performance.

Unsurprisingly in light of the findings, 85pc of operators polled for the survey said they plan to increase their mobile security budgets. These will tackle issues such as network intrusion, mobile viruses, denial-of-service attacks, spam and mobile phishing, which is sometimes called SMiShing.

Mobile malware is a subject that has divided the IT security industry on how real the threat is. Some believe mobiles are the next obvious target for attackers whereas others dismiss it as hype, with viruses often merely proof-of-concept prototypes rather than live examples in the wild.

By Gordon Smith