In today’s interconnected world, mobile devices have become an essential part of our daily lives. They serve as our communication hub, digital wallet, and even a portal to our personal and professional lives. We also use them for entertainment, productivity, and even managing our finances.

However, this widespread use of mobile devices has also made them attractive targets for cybercriminals. Since mobile security threats are on the rise, users need to be aware of the risks and take steps to protect their devices and data. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most popular mobile security threats and provide tips on how to safeguard your mobile device.

Most Popular Mobile Security Threats

As the reliance on mobile devices grows, the potential for mobile security threats increases. Whether you use an Android or iOS device, understanding the most popular mobile security threats is crucial to protecting your personal information and digital identity. Here are the most popular threats with some protection tips.

1. Mobile Hacking

Cybercriminals know that most internet users use their mobile phones to store their social media passwords, credit or debit card numbers, photos, and other critical data. That’s why they hack mobile phones and steal all personal and financial information. 

Mobile hacking refers to the unauthorised access, manipulation, or compromise of mobile devices, operating systems, apps, or data. It involves various techniques and methods that are used by malicious individuals or groups to gain control over or exploit mobile devices, potentially leading to data theft, privacy breaches, and various forms of cybercrime.

Protection Tips

• Keep your device and apps up to date.

• Use strong passcodes or biometrics for device security and enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) for accounts.

• Download apps from official app stores only and limit app permissions.

• Consider installing mobile security software.

• Avoid public USB charging stations.

2. SMiShing

Mobile security threats
Most Popular Mobile Security Threats You Should Know

SMiShing is also one of the common mobile security threats. Short for SMS phishing, it is similar in nature to email-based phishing but uses text messages as the delivery method. It is a type of cyberattack in which a cybercriminal attempts to steal your credentials and sensitive information. They send you a compelling text message. When you click it, they will be able to gather your sensitive data.

Protection Tips

• Avoid clicking on links in unsolicited text messages.

• Verify the sender’s identity before taking any action.

• Use mobile security apps that can detect and block SMiShing attempts.

3. Vishing

Vishing, short for voice phishing, is also among the common mobile security threats. It is a type of phishing scam that occurs over the phone, whether a mobile or a landline. It happens when a cybercriminal contacts you through your phone, trying to convince you to share your sensitive personal or financial data. They aim at stealing your identity or your credit and debit card numbers.

Protection Tips

• Never give out personal or financial information over the phone unless you initiate the call.

• If in doubt, hang up and call the organisation using their official phone number to verify the call’s legitimacy.

4. Bluebugging

Bluebugging is a cyberattack that targets a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone or tablet. A cybercriminal compromises the security of your mobile phone and gains control over it, even if you do not turn on your Bluetooth. Without your knowledge, they can steal all your data, access your address book, listen to your calls, make calls, send messages, and more.

Protection Tips

• Turn off Bluetooth when not in use, and set it to “non-discoverable” mode when not pairing.

• Limit Bluetooth range by keeping devices physically close.

• Be cautious with pairing requests from unknown sources.

• Monitor for unauthorised access in connection history.

• Enable encryption and authentication for Bluetooth connections.

5. MitM Attacks

A Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attack is also one of the popular mobile security threats. It starts when a cybercriminal intercepts and possibly alters the communication between two parties, typically a user and an application. The attacker secretly positions themselves between the two parties, compromising data integrity and confidentiality and acting as an intermediary. They can eavesdrop on, modify, or even inject new information into the communication, all while the victims are unaware of their presence.

Protection Tips

• Avoid using public Wi-Fi for sensitive transactions.

• Use a VPN for internet traffic encryption.

• Regularly update your router’s firmware and change default login credentials.

6. Social Engineering Attacks

A social engineering attack is also one of the popular mobile security threats that manipulate and deceive users into divulging sensitive information. A cybercriminal often poses as a trusted individual or company to gain victims’ trust before exploiting them. They perform actions that compromise security or provide access to sensitive systems or data.

Unlike many other cyberattacks that target software vulnerabilities, social engineering attacks exploit human psychology and behaviour. They rely on trust, curiosity, fear, or desire to help a cybercriminal trick a user into taking actions. These actions benefit the cybercriminal.

Protection Tips

• Never click on a suspicious link or download any attachment.

• Be sceptical of urgent or unusual requests for personal information.

• Verify the identity of the person making the request.

• Verify requests for money or personal information independently.

• Don’t share sensitive information over the phone or messages.

7. Phishing Attacks

Phishing attacks are also common mobile security threats that trick users into revealing personal information or login credentials. They are typically carried out through malicious websites, emails, or text messages that appear to be legitimate organisations, such as banks or social media platforms, but in fact, they are controlled by malicious actors.

Protection Tips

• Be wary of unsolicited messages or emails and avoid clicking on any suspicious links.

• Verify the legitimacy of the sender’s email address, website URL, or app before entering sensitive information.

• Use 2FA whenever possible.

8. Data Leakage and Insecure Data Storage

Mobile security threats
Most Popular Mobile Security Threats You Should Know

Mobile apps store sensitive information, such as login credentials and payment information. Insecure data storage can lead to data leakage if not adequately protected. Data leakage and insecure data storage are two related cybersecurity concerns, both of which involve the exposure of sensitive or confidential information to unauthorised parties. While they share similarities, they refer to slightly different aspects of data security.

Insecure Data Storage

Insecure data storage refers to the inadequate protection of data stored on your mobile or tablet. It involves the failure to implement proper security measures to safeguard data from unauthorised access, whether it’s at rest (stored data) or in transit (data being transferred). Common examples of insecure data storage include storing sensitive data in unencrypted files or databases and using weak or easily guessable passwords to protect stored data. Insecure data storage can lead to data breaches, unauthorised access, and data theft.

Data Leakage

On the other hand, data leakage, also known as data loss or data exposure, is the unauthorised transmission or transfer of sensitive data from your mobile to an external or unauthorised location. This could be an intentional or unintentional data release that includes personally identifiable information (PII), financial data, trade secrets, or other confidential information.

Data leakage can occur through various means, including emailing sensitive data to the wrong recipient and unauthorised copying of data to external devices. It is a significant concern because it can result in data breaches, loss of intellectual property, regulatory violations, and reputational damage.

Protection Tips

• Be cautious about the information you provide to apps and grant permissions only when necessary.

• Use encryption tools, secure password managers, and secure backup services for essential files to safeguard your data.

• Be cautious of free apps that may monetise your data.

9. Unauthorised Access and Lost or Stolen Devices

Unauthorised access and lost or stolen devices are two common mobile security threats in the realm of cybersecurity. They are ever-present and can lead to data breaches and privacy violations.

Protection Tips

• Use strong passcodes, PINs, or biometric authentication methods, such as facial recognition or fingerprint, to lock your device.

• Enable remote tracking, locking, and wiping features on your device to protect your data in case of theft or loss.

• Regularly back up your data to a secure location.

10. Outdated Operating Systems and Apps

Outdated operating systems and apps refer to software that has not been updated to the latest available versions, including missing critical security patches and bug fixes. Running outdated software can potentially lead to various security issues, as hackers often exploit vulnerabilities in older software versions. So, neglecting to update your mobile operating system and apps can leave your device vulnerable to security threats.

Protection Tips

• Regularly update your device’s operating system and keep your apps up to date.

• Review and limit app permissions and uninstall unused apps.

• Download apps from official or trusted stores.

• Be cautious with end-of-life devices, and consider replacing unsupported devices.

• Use mobile security software.

• Regularly back up data.

Mobile Malware: Types and Ways of Prevention

Mobile security threats
Most Popular Mobile Security Threats You Should Know

Malware, or malicious software, is a popular threat in the mobile world. Users often unknowingly download apps that contain malware, putting their devices and sensitive data at risk. These malicious apps can gain access to personal information, send premium-rate text messages, or even take control of your device. To protect against mobile malware, stick to trusted app stores and read reviews before downloading any app.

1. Mobile Ransomware

Mobile ransomware is a common type of malware that infects mobile devices. When ransomware infects a mobile device, it can be especially disruptive and damaging. A cybercriminal’s primary goal is to encrypt the device’s files and demand a ransom from the owner to decrypt them.

Protection Tips

• Keep software updated by enabling automatic updates.

• Back up data regularly and test backups periodically.

• Exercise caution with emails and messages.

• Install reputable security software.

• Avoid sideloading apps and be cautious with third-party app stores.

• Use app permissions wisely.

• Enable remote tracking and wiping.

• Implement strong authentication.

• Keep personal information private.

2. Cryptomining Malware

Another popular type is cryptomining malware, also known as cryptocurrency mining malware or cryptojacking. It is a type of malicious software designed to secretly use the computational resources of a victim’s devices to mine cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, Monero, or Ethereum.

Unlike traditional malware, which aims to steal data or damage systems, cryptomining malware hijacks the device’s computational power and exploits the hardware and processing power to solve complex mathematical problems. This, in turn, generates cryptocurrency for the attacker. This unauthorised and often hidden cryptocurrency mining can significantly impact the victim’s device performance and energy consumption.

Protection Tips

• Download apps only from trusted sources.

• Avoid sideloading apps from unverified websites.

• Review app permissions and restrict unnecessary access.

• Be cautious with free or suspicious apps that promise cryptocurrency rewards.

• Keep your mobile’s operating system and apps up to date.

• Use reputable mobile security software.

• Be cautious with phishing emails and links.

• Use strong, unique passwords and enable 2FA.

• Monitor your phone’s performance for unusual behaviour.

• Use ad blockers and anti-cryptojacking browser extensions.

• Disable JavaScript in your mobile browser if not needed for specific sites.

• Regularly review your phone’s battery and data usage for anomalies.

• Enable network-level protections if available through your mobile carrier or Wi-Fi network.

• Consider using a VPN for added privacy and security.

3. Advertising Click Fraud

Advertising click fraud, commonly referred to as click fraud, is another fraudulent practice in the online advertising industry. Individuals, bots, or automated scripts intentionally click on online ads with the intent to generate invalid or fraudulent clicks. The primary motivation behind click fraud is to deceive advertisers and ad networks into paying for clicks that do not represent genuine user interest or potential customers. It is a deceptive practice that can have a significant impact on digital advertising campaigns, costing advertisers money and distorting performance metrics.

Protection Tips

• Be cautious with unsolicited ads and offers.

• Verify the legitimacy of mobile ads and promotions.

• Use a reputable ad blocker and anti-click fraud extensions.

• Keep your mobile device’s operating system and apps up to date.

• Review app permissions and limit access to sensitive data.

• Watch for unusual or excessive ad clicks.

• Monitor your mobile data usage for unexpected spikes.

• Report suspicious ads to the platform or ad network.

• Use strong, unique passwords and enable 2FA.

• Be cautious of “get rich quick” schemes or ads promising easy money.

• Monitor your credit card and bank statements every now and then to ensure there aren’t any unauthorised charges.

• Use secure, reputable payment methods for online transactions.

• Install and update mobile security software for added protection.

• Consider using a VPN for enhanced privacy and security.

4. Bank Trojans

Bank trojans, also known as banking trojans, are malicious software specifically designed to target online banking and financial services. These trojans aim to compromise and steal sensitive financial information, such as online credit card details, banking credentials, and personal identification numbers (PINs). They are a subset of the trojan malware.

Protection Tips

• Download apps only from official sources and avoid sideloading apps from unverified websites.

• Verify the legitimacy of banking apps and communications.

• Be wary of granting unnecessary app permissions.

• Keep the operating system and apps updated by enabling automatic updates.

• Be cautious with unsolicited messages and emails.

• Monitor your credit card and bank statements every now and then.

• Install reputable mobile security software.

• Enable mobile device encryption if available.

• Avoid using public Wi-Fi for sensitive transactions.

• Report suspicious activities or unauthorised transactions to your bank immediately.

5. RATs

Remote access tools (RATs), also known as remote access trojans, are software applications or tools that allow users to access and control a mobile or tablet from a remote location. RATs are designed for legitimate purposes, such as remote technical support, system administration, and remote work scenarios. However, they can also be misused for malicious activities if installed or used without the owner’s consent.

Protection Tips

• Download apps only from trusted sources.

• Avoid sideloading apps from unverified sources.

• Review app permissions and limit unnecessary access.

• Keep your mobile’s operating system and apps updated.

• Be aware of unsolicited messages and emails.

• Verify the legitimacy of remote access requests.

• Use strong, unique passwords and enable 2FA.

• Install reputable mobile security software.

• Regularly monitor your device for unusual activity.

• Be cautious with public Wi-Fi networks.

Cybercrime on WhatsApp

Since mobile security threats are increasing rapidly today, several tricks occur on WhatsApp, too. A cybercriminal may send you a WhatsApp message from an unknown number pretending that they are a family member. In fact, they will contact you out of the blue and ask you to keep the conversation a secret. Creating a situation that seems urgent, they will urge you to respond as soon as possible or provide your financial or personal information. 

You can detect these tricks in several ways. For example, you can contact your family member through other means to verify their identity. Their message can also be full of grammatical and spelling mistakes. To avoid being a victim, do not ever give your financial or personal information to anyone. On top of that, report the scam on WhatsApp directly and explain your problem.

As mobile devices continue to play an integral role in our lives, the need to understand and address mobile security threats is more important than ever. By staying informed and adopting best practices, such as keeping software up to date, avoiding suspicious apps, and using secure authentication methods, you can significantly reduce the risk of mobile security threats, compromising your personal data and digital identity. Vigilance and proactive measures are essential in this age of ever-evolving cybersecurity challenges.