Smartphone Users Largely Unaware of Mobile Security Risks, Study Says

Many smartphone users are unwittingly vulnerable to mobile security risks associated with their devices from financial applications, geolocation services, unauthorized charges, spyware, virus attacks and other malicious activity, according to a new study conducted by AVG Technologies Inc., a Chelmsford, MA-based security software provider and the Ponemon Institute, a Traverse City, MI-based researcher.

The companies surveyed some 734 age-18 plus smartphone users in the U.S., typically those owning an Apple Computer Inc. iPhone, a device running Google Inc.'s Android operating system or Research In Motion Inc.'s BlackBerry, and discovered that "an alarmingly low percentage" are aware of the security threats and lack sufficient knowledge to protect themselves, according to J.R. Smith, AVG chief executive.

"AVG and Ponemon Institute found that an alarmingly low percentage of surveyed smartphone users are aware of the security threats that exist today on many of the world's most popular devices including Android handsets and the iPhone," said Smith. 

For example, only 21 percent of the study's respondent said that they were aware that geolocation services on their phones could allow their movements to be tracked by others. Some 13 percent said that, indeed, they had experienced an intrusion of that sort.

Similarly, a scant 11 percent said that they knew that their mobile financial application could transmit confidential information such as credit card details without their knowledge or consent. It hasn't happened all that frequently just yet-only 6 percent said that they had been victimized in that way--but more malicious activity of that sort is likely to occur in the future.

And, 10 percent of those surveyed said that they knew their handset could be infected by so-called "dialer-ware"--malware used by cyber criminals to access premium services or make unauthorized phone calls that add unexpected monthly charges to the user's bill. Only 8 percent of the study's participants had experienced that threat.

"Our research suggests that surveyed smartphone users lack the awareness and knowledge to protect themselves from a rash of security vulnerabilities," said Dr. Larry Ponemon, Ponemon Institute chairman and founder.

Considering the relative newness of smartphones in the marketplace, it's not surprising to learn that less than one-third of the users in the study have thought about downloading either free or paid anti-virus software to protect their devices. 

"A clear opportunity exists to better educate consumers on the steps they can take to minimize their risk and exposure, such as downloading low cost and even free anti-virus products specifically geared to protect their mobile lifestyle and investment," Smith said.

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