Mobiles attract hi-tech thieves

Apple logo in the rain, Reuters
Image caption Smartphones such as Apple's iPhone are being increasingly targeted by hi-tech thieves, says Cisco

Cyber criminals are starting to move away from Windows and targeting other technologies, says a security report.

The annual report from net giant Cisco suggests that mobile phone operating systems are becoming increasingly popular with hi-tech criminals.

It predicts 2011 will see a significant number of attacks directed at smartphones, mobile software and users.

Despite this, the vast majority of current viruses are aimed at Windows and programs that run on it.

The trend towards mobile malware took a significant turn in late 2009, says Cisco with the appearance of a virus called Zitmo. This was a mobile version of the Zeus Windows trojan that has proved hugely popular with criminals keen to steal logins to online bank accounts.

Also, wrote Patrick Peterson, senior security researcher at Cisco, improved Windows security made it harder for hi-tech criminals to find new ways to attack PCs.

A growing target, said the report, were Apple products such as the iPhone. Statistics gathered by Cisco suggest a growing number of vulnerabilities are being found in Apple operating systems.

Cisco said Apple's close oversight of what can run on its phones was limiting the effectiveness of attacks but many people were "jailbreaking" their phones putting them at risk from unofficial apps that have malicious elements buried within them.

Apple was not alone among mobile operating systems attracting attention, said the report, attacks were also starting to focus on Google's Android software.

Mr Peterson said Cisco had seen lots of research and development by criminal groups as they focus on mobiles and work out the best way to attack portable gadgets.

Evidence of this was seen in the localised and targeted phishing scams sent out to mobiles as criminals seek to trick groups of users into handing over passwords.

Trojans aimed at Android that booby trap apps that run on phones or bury premium rate links in ads were also starting to turn up. For instance, in late December 2010 the Geinimi trojan for Android was found that can steal almost any of the data on a handset.

"The relative youth of the Android OS, including its apps and ecosystem, combined with the sheer number of users will make this a very attractive platform for exploitation," Scott Olechowski, threat research manager at Cisco.

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