Mobile and Social – the Threats You Should Know About

7 min read

(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)

A prediction of the future (and the lottery numbers for next week) scams

Security threats, such as malware, are starting to be manifested on mobile devices, as we are learning that mobile devices are not immune to virus, malware, and other attacks. As PCs are increasingly being replaced by the use of mobile devices, the incidence of new attacks against mobile devices is growing. The user has to take precautions to protect their mobile devices just as they would protect their PC.

One major type of mobile cybercrime is the unsolicited text message that captures personal details. Another type of cybercrime involves an infected phone that sends out an SMS message that results in excess connectivity charges.

Mobile threats are on the rise according to the Symantec Report of 2012; 31 percent of all mobile users have received an SMS from someone that they didn’t know. An example is where the user receives an SMS message that includes a link or phone number. This technique is used to install malware onto your mobile device. Also, these techniques are an attempt to hoax you into disclosing personal or private data. In 2012, Symantec released a new cybercrime report. They concluded that countries like Russia, China, and South Africa have the highest cybercrime incidents. Their rate of exploitation ranges from 80 to 92 percent. You can find this report at


The most common type of threat is known as malware . It is short for malicious software. Malware is used or created by attackers to disrupt many types of computer operations, collect sensitive information, or gain access to a private mobile device/computer. It includes worms, Trojan horses, computer viruses, spyware, keyloggers and root kits, and other malicious programs.

As mobile malware is increasing at a rapid speed, the U.S. government wants users to be aware of all the dangers. So in October 2012, the FBI issued a warning about mobile malware (

The IC3 has been made aware of various malware attacking Android operating systems for mobile devices. Some of the latest known versions of this type of malware are Loozfon and FinFisher. Loozfon hooks its victims by emailing the user with promising links such as: a profitable payday just for sending out email.

It then plants itself onto the phone when the user clicks on this link. This specific malware will attach itself to the device and start to collect information from your device, including:

  • Contact information
  • E-mail address
  • Phone numbers
  • Phone number of the compromised device

On the other hand, a spyware called FinFisher can take over various components of a smartphone. According to IC3, this malware infects the device through a text message and via a phony e-mail link. FinFisher attacks not only Android devices, but also devices running Blackberry, iOS, and Windows.

Various security reports have shown that mobile malware is on the rise. Cyber criminals tend to target Android mobile devices. As a result, Android users are getting an increasing amount of destructive Trojans, mobile botnets, and SMS-sending malware and spyware. Some of these reports include:

As stated recently in a Pew survey, more than fifty percent of U.S. mobile users are overly suspicious/concerned about their personal information, and have either refused to install apps for this reason or have uninstalled apps.

In other words, the IC3 says:

Use the same precautions on your mobile devices as you would on your computer when using the Internet.

Toll fraud

Since the 1970s and 1980s, hackers have been using a process known as phreaking . This trick provides a tone that tells the phone that a control mechanism is being used to manage long-distance calls. Today, the hackers are now using a technique known as toll fraud . It’s a malware that sends premium-rate SMSs from your device, incurring charges on your phone bill. Some toll fraud malware may trick you into agreeing to murky Terms of Service, while others can send premium text messages without any noticeable indicators. This is also known as premium-rate SMS malware or premium service abuser .

The following figure shows how toll fraud works, portrayed by Lookout Mobile Security:

According to VentureBeat, malware developers are after money. The money is in the toll fraud malware. Here is an example from

  • Remember commercials that say, “Text 666666 to get a new ringtone everyday!”? The normal process includes: Customer texts the number, alerting a collector—working for the ringtone provider—that he/she wants to order daily ringtones.
  • Through the collector, the ringtone provider sends a confirmation text message to the customer (or sometimes two depending on that country’s regulations) to the customer.
  • That customer approves the charges and starts getting ringtones.
  • The customer is billed through the wireless carrier.
  • The wireless carrier receives payment and sends out the ringtone payment to the provider.

Now, let’s look at the steps when your device is infected with the malware known as FakeInst :

  • The end user downloads a malware application that sends out an SMS message to that same ringtone provider.
  • As normal, the ringtone provider sends the confirmation message. In this case, instead of reaching the smartphone owner, the malware blocks this message and sends a fake confirmation message before the user ever knows.
  • The malware now places itself between the wireless carrier and the ringtone provider. Pretending to be the collector, the malware extracts the money that was paid through the user’s bill.

FakeInst is known to get around antivirus software by identifying itself as new or unique software.

Overall, Android devices are known to be impacted more by malware than iOS. One big reason for this is that Android devices can download applications from almost any location on the Internet. Apple limits its users to downloading applications from the Apple App store.

SMS spoofing

The third most common type of scam is called SMS spoofing . SMS spoofing allows a person to change the original mobile phone number or the name (sender ID) where the text message comes from. It is a fairly new technology that uses SMS on mobile phones. Spoofing can be used in both lawful and unlawful ways. Impersonating a company, another person, or a product is an illegal use of spoofing. Some nations have banned it due to concerns about the potential for fraud and abuse, while others may allow it. An example of how SMS spoofing is implemented is as follows: SMS spoofing occurs when the message sender’s address information has been manipulated. This is done many times to impersonate a cell phone user who is roaming on a foreign network and sending messages to a home area network. Often, these messages are addressed to users who are outside the home network, which is essentially being “hijacked” to send messages to other networks.

The impacts of this activity include the following:

  • The customer’s network can receive termination charges caused by the valid delivery of these “bad” messages to interlink partners.
  • Customers may criticize about being spammed, or their message content may be sensitive. Interlink partners can cancel the home network unless a correction of these errors is implemented. Once this is done, the phone service may be unable to send messages to these networks.
  • There is a great risk that these messages will look like real messages, and real users can be billed for invalid roaming messages that they did not send.

There is a flaw within iPhone that allows SMS spoofing. It is vulnerable to text messaging spoofing, even with the latest beta version, iOS 6. The problem with iPhone is that when the sender specifies a reply-to number this way, the recipient doesn’t see the original phone number in the text message. That means there’s no way to know whether a text message has been spoofed or not. This opens up the user to other spoofing types of manipulation where the recipient thinks he/she is receiving a message from a trusted source.

According to pod2g (

In a good implementation of this feature, the receiver would see the original phone number and the reply-to one. On iPhone, when you see the message, it seems to come from the reply-to number, and you loose track of the origin.


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