By David Goldman
A significant rise in smartphone attacks is predicted every year, and it hasn’t happened yet. But that isn’t stopping major security firms from saying this will be the year that phones will finally emerge as a major target for cybercriminals. There are many reasons why smartphones are vulnerable. For one, they run most of the same software that smartphone users also use on their computers. Smartphones also have many additional capabilities that hackers can exploit. They can connect to other potentially vulnerable devices using Bluetooth and send and receive text messages, for example. But smartphones are also increasingly being used as mobile wallets. That’s why cybersecurity experts believe mobile payment systems are likely to be the next big target for cybercriminals. According to research from Juniper Networks, 300 million smartphones around the world will be equipped with the near-field communications (NFC) chips needed for mobile payments. Juniper predicts global NFC transactions will total nearly $50 billion this year. Though the underlying NFC technology is believed to be secure, the applications designed to use it “will be riddled with security holes, and massive losses will ensue,” according to Rod Rasmussen, president of security company IID. Mobile payments may be the most headline-grabbing phone attack method, but it won’t be the only one. Security experts believe another prominent technique will be ransomware — malware that takes control of a user’s device and data, relinquishing it only if the user pays money. Researchers from McAfee, an Intel subsidiary, think ransomware will become a “prominent trend” in 2013. Security firm Top Patch expects ransomware to graduate from attacking “celebrity victims” to regular consumers this year.