Your Smartphone: Ground Zero for Cyberattacks

Your network was hacked. You search to find the vulnerability that led to the hack. Here’s a tip that might expedite that investigation: start with the mobile phones connected to your network. With increasing frequency, smartphones are ground zero for cyberattacks, but too often they are ignored as a source.

The reason why smartphones are ground zero for cyberattacks is because most users don’t bother to add security software to the devices. In his opening keynote address at Check Point CPX360 in New Orleans, Gil Shwed, CEO of Check Point, asked the audience how many used malware protection on their phone. In a room filled with cybersecurity professionals—or at least people with a higher-than-average interest in cybersecurity—only a small number of hands went up. Shwed joked that all those hands were Check Point employees, but it pointed to a larger problem. Here was a group of people vested in cybersecurity and protecting their organization’s network, and very few had any protection on the device they used the most, their mobile phone.

The 1 Percenters

Despite those low numbers, the audience outpaces the general global population in their smartphone security awareness. According to Shwed, fewer than 1% of smartphone users have installed malware protection software.

Cybercriminals know the amount of valuable information that is on that device, so they target phones, dropping malware into apps or escalating phishing campaigns via messaging systems. They see the phone as the gateway to your credentials that then opens the door to your cloud account, your data center and your entire infrastructure. Your phone is the least stable piece of your network and it is doing serious damage.

Yet, said Shwed, cyberattacks are rarely attributed to mobile devices because we often see our phones as the last piece of our connected cycle. There is a tendency to look at cybersecurity protection from the inside out, starting with the network and fanning out to the cloud and then to endpoints. Instead, we need to reverse that thinking and see the phone as the entry point where the first line of defense should occur.

Stuck in the Wrong Generation

The lack of protection for the mobile device isn’t the only protection failure within organizations. It’s that our cybersecurity defenses are focused primarily on the problems of the past.

Smartphones are part of the 5th generation of cyberattacks, the multi-vector attack. As Tech Target article defined it: “5th generation attacks can be extremely dangerous because they can spread quickly and outmaneuver conventional detection-based defenses such as firewalls. Gen V attacks are a part of the natural evolution of threats as changing defenses force attackers to hone their craft.”

The problem, Shwed told his audience, is that while organizations are deploying all of the technology targeted in Generation 5 attacks, most enterprises are using protection for third-generation attacks that focused on applications, hardware and the infrastructure—attacks that first came into play in the early 2000s. So most organizations are using security systems geared for 20-year-old problems rather than move to address current cyberattack methods and targets.

And it will get worse before it gets better. Shwed reminded his audience that we have moved beyond Gen 5 attacks and are now into Generation 6 territory, where IoT is flooding our networks and lives. If we struggle with mobile phone security—technology that has been in the palm of our hand for a decade—how will we manage to stop attacks coming in via, well, everything from security cameras to light bulbs?

Organizations can’t get caught up all at once. They may not be able to afford to improve on their Gen 3 systems right now. But there is one thing that every smartphone user can do, immediately: Add malware protection. It may not stop an attack, but cybercriminals will need to find a new ground zero.

Sue Poremba

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Sue Poremba

Sue Poremba is freelance writer based in central Pennsylvania. She's been writing about cybersecurity and technology trends since 2008.

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