Mobile Operators Take Action on Rising Consumer Mobile Security Threats

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Mobile operators are viewed by their subscribers as being predominantly responsible for protecting them from a range of security threats to which subscribers are increasingly vulnerable as the penetration of smartphones and mobile broadband rises according to a new report from Informa Telecoms Media.

Informa's Mobile Operators' Consumer Mobile Security Strategies report found that mobile operators are partnering with security software providers to provide their subscribers with parental control capabilities, as well as protection against threats such as malware, phishing, fraud, spam and the theft or loss of their device. For example, Tier-1 operators such as Vodafone, Orange and Telefonica are partnering with vendors such as McAfee, Lookout Mobile Security and F-Secure, in multiple markets.

"The growing penetration of smartphones and mobile broadband has led to the situation where subscribers are finding themselves at risk from a range of potential threats, particularly smartphone subscribers with Android devices," said the report's author, Pamela Clark-Dickson, senior analyst, Mobile Content and Applications at Informa Telecoms & Media. Android-based devices were forecast to comprise the highest share of the 1.02 billion smartphones sold globally in 2013, at 63%, or 643.6 million devices, according to Informa's Future Mobile Handsets Interactive Forecast Tool, 2012-2018 (August 2013). Hackers inevitably target exploits at the widest possible addressable market, and Android is doubly a target because it is based on an open-standards operating system, which makes it easier for hackers to penetrate.

For example, subscribers are increasingly installing applications on their devices, some of which may contain malware. There is also a growing trend towards mobile subscribers storing more sensitive data on their smartphones, such as payment details, which unauthorized third parties could potentially access and then use to commit fraud or theft. The increasing sophistication of smartphones also makes it easier for criminals to prey on the vulnerable, particularly children.

Mobile operators are viewing the provision of consumer mobile security services as part of their corporate social responsibility programs, as opposed to just offering a revenue-generating service. For example, mobile operator Orange's recent announcement of its partnership with Symantec states that protecting children from internet-based risk is one of its eight CSR priorities. Typically mobile operators are offering consumer mobile security services under a two-tier model: a free package containing basic protection, and a premium version for which the operator charges a small monthly fee.

Mobile phone retailers are also starting to view the consumer mobile security market as an opportunity to partner with security software vendors. For example, The Cellular Connection, the US Verizon Wireless distributor, has partnered with security software vendor NQ Mobile to provide Verizon Wireless subscribers with anti-virus and parental control software.

Meanwhile, the mobile security software vendor market is split between PC-first security software vendors and mobile-first security software vendors. The first group includes companies such as McAfee, F-Secure, Kaspersky and Symantec, while Lookout Mobile Security and NQ Mobile are the most successful mobile-first security software vendors in terms of partnerships with mobile operators.

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