How to better protect your organization against mobile threats

The increased use of personal phones for work and the growth of mobile malware create a risk to organizations, says Gigamon.

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The mobile phone has become ubiquitous not just personally but professionally. Many organizations have BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies in which employees are allowed or even encouraged to use their own personal mobile phones for and at work. As such, many of these devices are able to access corporate networks and sensitive data. These personal devices may not be as protected or secured as company-owned devices, thereby opening up a Pandora's Box of potential security threats.

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A report released Monday by network monitoring provider Gigamon looks at the use of mobile devices on business networks and the risks posed by mobile malware and inadequate security. The report also offers several pieces of advice on protecting your organization from mobile threats.

For its research report "A Deep Dive into Mobile Threats," Gigamon pointed to a couple of recent studies, one of which discovered that 80% of employees use their personal phones for work-related purposes and the other that found 70% of businesses allow employees to bring their own devices to work. Further, 53% of all device usage around the world is from mobile devices, compared with 44% for PCs.

At the same time, malware has increased. In 2018 alone, 750 million pieces of malware accounted for more than 10 billion attacks. Though mobile malware represents only a tiny percentage of that total, the types of threats found on mobile devices can gain access to sensitive information. Specifically, credit card data, intellectual property, and PII (personally identifiable information) can be accessed through Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) apps used on mobile devices.

Mobile devices can open the door to different types of threats, as described in the report.

  • Number of applications. Many mobile devices store anywhere from 60 to 90 different apps, including email, SaaS-based programs, cloud storage, social networks, games, and news apps. The more apps that require updating, the more protocols accessible, and the more time someone spends on the device, the greater the potential risk.
  • Increased attack surface. The growing number of cloud services accessible on a mobile device can trigger more ways to exfiltrate data or access sensitive information. As such, attackers can use information obtainable from users to devise phishing emails to gain entry to the mobile device. Further, hackers can tap into such methods as drive-by downloads, watering hole attacks, and website compromises to use a mobile device as a gateway into the corporate network.
  • Form factor. Mobile devices are equipped with certain exploitable features, such as cameras and microphones. A compromised phone taken into a business environment can be used to snap photos of sensitive documents or presentations.
  • Blurring the line between work and personal use. Mobile users can easily blend together personal and professional contacts and other information. As a result, they can make such mistakes as emailing sensitive data to the wrong person or posting confidential material to a social network. A device that's been hacked over public Wi-Fi could see its email, social media, and VoIP conversations compromised.

To help your organization defend itself against threats from mobile devices, Giagmon offers the following tips:

  1. Limit use. One of the most effective ways to secure your environment is to limit the use of mobile devices in sensitive business locations.
  2. Monitor your network. Make sure you employ Network Detection and Response (NDR) solutions to analyze mobile device traffic for inbound, outbound, and interoffice communication activity associated with threats.
  3. Check BYOD policies. Make sure your BYOD policies are tight enough to give you peace of mind. They should reflect a clear understanding of what types of apps cannot be used organizationally and what usages are permitted or disallowed (e.g. transferring company files from approved cloud storage to unapproved cloud storage).
  4. Mobile device management. Solutions that allow policy implementation on mobile devices are always a good idea. Make sure that you have policies in place that lock down devices, whitelist applications, and ensure VPN access.
  5. Multi Factor Authentication (MFA). This type of authentication has become widespread and should be one of the many implementations to be included.
  6. User education. Never forget that users are the first line of defense. It's not enough to do compliance training once a year: Threat actors continuously update and enhance their attacks, so continuous education (including phishing simulations) can go a long way toward keeping security top of mind for employees.

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