Smartphone users will be targeted by 'ransom' malware attacks as cyber criminals shift focus from PCs to mobile devices, according to security firm RSA.
“Ransomware is going to be the next thing we see happen [on mobile] and it will happen pretty soon,” said Daniel Cohen, head of knowledge delivery and business development for RSA’s cyber crime division. “By the end of the first half of 2014 we will be seeing it on Android.”
Ransomware is a type of malware infection used to remotely block access to data on a victim's computer, with criminals subsequently demanding a cash fee to unencrypt files.
The malware is not new, having targeted PCs for the best part of a decade, but becoming prevalent with the introduction of the CryptoLocker malware last year, which is estimated to have infected a quarter of a million computers worldwide between September and December, 1,700 of which were in the UK.
It is expected that cyber criminals will now begin to focus such attacks more on mobile devices, following the first appearances of Android-based ransomware in mid-2013.
One of the reasons for the change in tactics is the continued boom in sales of smartphones, with one billion sold last year, offering fraudsters new avenues of attack.
“We are seeing more malicious attacks on mobile phones, including this ransomware,” said Cohen, speaking at an event at RSA’s Israel cyber crime facility on Wednesday. “The more we adopt mobile devices and smartphones, the more bad guys will start moving to these platforms. With the continued adoption of mobility and BYOD, mobile threats will gain significant traction.”
Although there have been increasing reports of ransomware targeting SMEs, with the National Crime Agency recently warning small businesses in the UK of extortion through the malware, Cohen said that the rise of mobile based attacks will not create significant disruption to larger firms, which are more capable of keeping sensitive data safe from would-be hackers.
“Ransomware can lock out pictures, SMS messages, and it might lock out the whole device. However, for businesses email is already in the cloud or on corporate servers, so it is not so much a risk to corporate customers as it is a risk to consumers.”