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The landscape of cybercrime is constantly changing and growing as hackers seek out new ways to make money. Over the past few years, there have been a slew of headlines reporting massive data hacks on major platforms and companies such as Uber, Twitter, Google, Marriot, Target, and others, where hackers have stolen millions of consumers' personal information including names, social security numbers, addresses, and credit card numbers.
From 2016 to 2020, the financial impact of fraud cases has multiplied several folds, costing victims an annual total of $42 billion in 2020 according to the PwC global economic crime survey. The majority of that fraud involved some sort of cybercrime.
When it comes to cybercrime, your mobile phone isn't exempt. When any device is connected to the internet, as most phones are, the users of those devices face many of the same threats as desktop computer users.
Keep reading to learn the types of cyber threats that affect mobile devices, along with some ways to reduce your risk.
Many of the cyber threats that face mobile devices are simply the mobile version of threats that face desktop computers. Still, it's helpful to review these threats and some of the ways the attacks are customized for mobile devices.
Ransomware is a type of malware that locks up your device. Once you've been infected, you lose your ability to access all of the data on your phone until you pay a ransom to the criminal. Depending on the type of ransomware, you could lose your call history, contacts, photos, messages, and many basic phone functions.
Even if you pay the ransom, there's no guarantee that your device will be fixed, so it's best not to buy any software that pops up during a ransomware attack.
Scareware is similar to ransomware. The difference with scareware is that you don't lose your access to data. Instead, a pop-up or similar message attempts to scare you into believing you've been infected by a virus. The scareware will advertise software to combat the viruses, but that software itself is the virus. The key is to do nothing—as long as you don't download the scareware or give out any personal information, you won't get a virus.
Not all malware is as obvious as ransomware. Some malware is designed to go unnoticed, and these viruses are known as spyware. Spyware can be installed on your device without your knowledge by hackers. It can also be accidentally installed while browsing the internet. This is known as a "drive-by download." You think you're simply visiting a website, but the site clandestinely installs spyware on your device.
Once it's on your device, spyware can track your device use and extract personal data like locations and passwords. Whatever the spyware collects is sent back to the cybercriminal who created it.
There's an app for everything, but not all of those apps are convenient tools or benign entertainment. That time-killing game you downloaded might be fun, but it might also be collecting intimate details about you and sending them to advertisers or bad actors.
These apps ask for permissions and data access under the guise of improving the app experience, but what they're actually doing is mining data to sell. Falling victim to these scams is known as "data leakage." At best, this scam results in increasingly invasive ads. At worst, sensitive data could end up in the hands of criminals who use it to steal your identity.
Phishing is a common cyber scam that costs victims millions of dollars every year. Phishing can be broad and crude or targeted and specific, but in general, the scam starts as an email that appears to be from a business or person you know. It contains a link and asks you to input some information, such as a confirmation of account information. However, the email isn't actually from the entity you know, and any information you enter goes straight to the scammer.
This may sound like an easy scam to avoid, but phishing emails can be advanced. It's easy to mistake them with the real thing. In some ways, mobile devices heighten this threat.
Users may be more likely to quickly open up an email if they get an alert on their phone, as opposed to desktop users who purposefully sift through their inbox.
"Smishing" or "SMiShing" is a new take on the phishing scam. The scam plays out the exact same way, but instead of using email, the scammers use text messages (the "SMS" in "SMiShing").
It may seem like a nice perk for a coffee shop or transit terminal to offer free wireless internet, and it is, but it's also a potential threat. Free Wi-Fi is often unsecured, which allows hackers to place themselves between your device and the Wi-Fi hotspot.
Anything you do online while using the free connection could be intercepted by bad actors.
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