It has never before been clearer that we are all at risk each day due to developments in computing technology. Mobile phones are now as powerful as a full-size laptop from just three years ago. The level of connectivity and capabilities increase each month; this leads to greater convenience and superior management of our businesses and daily lives. However, there is a down side. These mini computers are more and more in danger of cyber-attack. Our data, address books, banking passwords and even things such as highly valuable financial, business and governmental data are at risk of theft, corruption and hack from anywhere on the globe.
|Hoffman: Carriers need to admit there is reason to be concerned with smartphones.|
Recently, we were even alerted to the notion that our own government, arguably one of the most-secure computing bodies on the planet was hacked, by computer engineers in China. They allegedly stole information about dissidents in America and began spying on them.
Following an attack on the computers used in his office and the Blackberrys carried by his staff members, Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) offered a resolution addressing the potential of computer terrorism. Rep. Wolf offered a clear rallying cry: “Computer systems control all critical infrastructures, and nearly all of these systems are linked together through the Internet. This means that nearly all infrastructures in the United States are vulnerable to being attacked, hijacked or destroyed by cyber means…According to a report from the Congressional Research Service, ‘U.S. counterintelligence officials reportedly have stated that about 140 different foreign intelligence organizations regularly attempt to hack into the computer systems of U.S. government agencies and U.S. companies.’”
Yet, the Federal government hasn’t done nearly enough to protect our critical communications infrastructures from foreign or domestic attack. Similarly, if someone can just as easily get access to my Citibank account because my password is on my Blackberry, then I am all for protecting myself.
I checked and my carrier does not currently offer additional protection, but it did assure me that I had little to fear. Being the chief technology officer of a mobile security company and a certified ethical hacker having personal knowledge of how to hack into these devices, I know they are gravely mistaken, and this is a very serious and growing matter.
On a daily basis, my company’s “threat center” monitors mobile attacks. What we are seeing is not people trying to steal personal photos. Rather the target is information from investment banks, hospitals and other institutions with highly valuable, at-risk data. The industry is in denial in a way that is putting our most vital institutions at risk.
To make this easy to understand, no one would buy a personal computer without some sort of virus protection. Opening a computer to the Internet is an invitation for spam, malware or other attacks. Now, after “Melissa” and other widespread viruses, there is an understanding of the need for prophylactic protection on computers, but the carriers not only don’t offer this type of protection they claim it is not even needed.
Beyond the carriers, RIM, the maker of Blackberry, has assured every investment banker, government employee and you and me that its systems are not only safe, but unhackable. Now everyone in the security field knows this is quite the exaggeration and RIM is losing credibility by making these outlandish statements. Even the White House has taken steps to limit its exposure by banning staffers from carrying their smartphones abroad for fear of hacking and the loss of sensitive data.
Everyone who carries a smartphone has information on it they would rather not lose. But the carriers and the government seem to be in denial over the real and present threat we are facing. There are solutions on the market, including many developed here in the United States.
I’ve taken steps to protect myself. I know I’ll sleep better knowing that the thief next to me in Starbucks won’t be stealing pictures of my children or be able to use my mobile banking information to transfer money from my account.
Hoffman is chief technical officer for SMobile Systems.