Hackers eyeing smartphones

Hackers eyeing smartphones

KUALA LUMPUER - F-Secure's malware detection laboratory looks like the command centre of a rocket launch. Multi-tiered banks of computers face a large screen on the ninth floor of a posh building in Bangsar, where analysts hunt malware and other intrusion programs.

"We detect hundreds of thousands of malware every single day from here," the Helsinki-based company's security adviser, Mr Goh Su Gim, told The Straits Times during a visit to Malaysia's only global malware detection and analysis laboratory.

From the multitude of malware - a portmanteau term for malicious software that steals or spies - detected in Malaysia, it is clear that mobile devices are the next big meal ticket for hacker thieves, as today's personal devices contain much more personal information than desktop computers.

"Your phone goes everywhere with you, taking pictures and recording your whereabouts, not the PC," Mr Goh told The Straits Times in an interview.

At present, cyber attacks in Malaysia are categorised into three types: cybercrime, cyber espionage and cyber activism.

Cyber activism or "hacktivism", aside from publicised incidents like the hacking of 51 Malaysian government websites in June 2011, are largely under control.

Cybercrime, however, is growing faster than either of the other two, as more users switch to smartphones.

Commercial cybercrime alone has caused RM1 billion (S$384.7 million) in losses in just the first six months of this year, compared with RM1.1 billion in the whole of last year, said local reports.

Malaysia police reported that between January and September this year, 3,832 cases of cyberfraud, including phishing, e-mail and SMS scams, caused RM56.2 million in losses.

The "Macau Scam", where victims were duped by fake bank or police officers over the phone into giving up their bank passwords and PINs, was one of the largest operations busted recently, with more than 400 syndicate members investigated and arrested in the past three years.

Robust systems are in place to protect the country's Critical National Information Infrastructure, which covers defence, banking and finance, energy, transportation, utilities, and emergency, government and health services.

Now, Internet security experts like F-Secure are bracing for the next big trend in computer crimes, "ransomware".

When ransomware infects a PC, a message pops up demanding a ransom in exchange for the key to unlock the computer, warning that any attempt to remove the software will lead to the immediate destruction of the key.

"We think ransomware will be in Malaysia in less than two years," said Mr Goh.

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

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