p>Taking steps to protect PCs from viruses and other threats is now standard procedure, but very few people are as careful when it comes to their mobile phones. However, smartphones are at just as much risk of infection as other devices connected to the internet.

In addition to the usual problems that you need antivirus and firewall software to protect your equipment from, hackers have developed new tactics to target mobiles. In particular, IT security experts have noted a rise in the number of threats aimed specifically at Android devices over the past six months.

Why are mobile phones so vulnerable?
The 2013 Threat Landscape report by the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) predicted that as an increasing number of consumers make mobile devices their primary method of accessing the internet, there will be an “exponential increase in threats” to mobiles. As more people use their handsets for banking, online shopping, and gambling, they become more attractive to cybercriminals.

One of the reasons for this is that much of the communication on mobiles takes place over unsecured Wi-Fi or poorly-secured GSM channels. Mobile operating systems and applications are also less mature than those used for PCs, which means it can be simple for hackers to steal personal data.

A lack of awareness of mobile security issues among users also helps to make life easier for cybercriminals. This is particularly true when devices are regularly used to access social media, as such sites are vulnerable to attack and members often choose weak passwords.

What are the biggest threats to smartphones?
Mobiles are now widely at risk of threats traditionally associated with PCs, such as viruses, malware, phishing and botnets. ENISA also warned there is evidence of a growth in more sophisticated attacks on mobile devices.

The report named drive-by exploits, Trojans used for stealing personal data, and exploit kits as the top emerging threats to mobile operating systems. All three of these can lead to devices becoming infected by malicious code without the user realising. Drive-by download attacks can be particularly damaging and are very difficult to spot, as they are usually launched from legitimate websites that have been compromised.

IT security experts observed a rise in attacks on Android devices during 2012. Trojans have been discovered in apps available via Google’s Play Store, while Android-specific hacking tools designed to steal banking and social media passwords have been found. Similar problems have been noted in Apple’s App Store and on iPhone software.

Written by James Sheehan, an internet security blogger.

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