Security risks rise as phones become smarter

An independent study commissioned by Airwide Solutions, a provider of next generation mobile messaging infrastructure and applications, has revealed valuable insight into mobile security risks across the EU.

The study, that was conducted by comScore M:Metrics on behalf of Airwide Solutions, looked at the way mobile subscribers use their phones across five European markets; the UK, France, Spain, Italy and Germany. Although the study uncovers some risky trends, the results represent a major opportunity for mobile operators to play a proactive and strategic role in protecting their subscribers, both through education and also through the security solutions they deploy across their networks.

Of the most significant findings were the dangers surrounding mobile spam. Despite some mobile operators leading the way in deploying anti-spam solutions, the study found that there is still some way to go with the number of people in the EU receiving unwanted text messages growing 21.3% year on year. With some spam messages containing mobile worms and viruses, this statistic is cause for concern, especially in France where the problem is growing by 61.3% year on year.

The study also revealed worrying findings into the use of gambling and adult services by under 18 year olds. In total, Spain recorded the biggest problem with 4% of 13 to 17 year olds accessing adult or gambling services between June 2007 and June 2008. The UK recorded the lowest problem with only 1.3% of minors accessing inappropriate mobile internet sites. However, the study also notes that the figures may mask a more serious situation with many teenagers embarrassed or frightened to admit the truth.

With many people now owning smartphones, mobile phones are also being used to safeguard sensitive company information and personal data such as social security numbers, PIN codes, passwords, company financial data and other proprietary information. Many people are also now using them to carry out financial transactions.

According to the study, 5.6 million people in the EU access financial information from their mobile phones – a 23.6% jump from the same time last year. Italy has been the fastest to embrace mobile banking services with a 30.2% increase in use from June 2007 to June 2008. When we consider that mobile phones are stolen in half of all robberies in just the UK alone, the need to protect this sensitive financial data has never been greater.

What the study has made clear is that mobile phones have now become a vital part of the way we live. Mobile phones are now far more omnipresent than personal computers, inherently more portable than other communications devices and carry far more personal and valuable data than ever before. In fact, on average a mobile phone in the EU is worth €476.07 with a mobile subscriber spending €401 a year on their mobile phone bill, €69 acquiring their handset and €6.07 on mobile content (ringtones, wallpaper, games, music etc).

Spain registered the highest spending on mobile phone bills (with phone users spending on average €544 per year), Italy recorded the highest spending on the handsets themselves (with an Italian mobile phone user paying on average €148 for a mobile phone) and the UK topped the poll on the amount spent on mobile content per year.

The survey also found that while we are using our phones to take more photos and record more videos, we are at risk of losing these precious personal memories as the majority of people surveyed (50% across Europe) do not back up their data.

Jay Seaton, CMO at Airwide Solutions commented: “Mobile security is a threat that is continuously growing; pretending it is not an issue does not address the problem. With significant increases in the use of mobiles phones both for personal and corporate use, mobile subscribers, parents and corporate organisations will need guarantees that their phones and data are secured. Whether to protect vulnerable users such as children with mobiles for family contact or to support corporates in fulfilling their duty of care to employees, operators are increasingly accepting a service responsibility to subscribers. This is an opportunity for fast moving operators to be on the forefront of addressing and ultimately containing this problem.”

Airwide Solutions helps mobile operators to tackle problems of mobile security through the company’s comprehensive mobile security portfolio, part of its overall portfolio of integrated mobile messaging, applications and services.

Airwide’s suite of solutions provides mobile operators with the ability to instantly disable lost or stolen phones on the network, lock and wipe data from stolen phones, view the inventory of mobile phones on the network so that they can take better preventive measures against theft and fraud and finally protect mobile users from inappropriate content (including everything from preventing users from receiving spam and unsolicited messages, to stopping children browsing inappropriate mobile web sites such as gambling or adult content).