FOR SMARTPHONE users from Slovakia a difficult period is about to begin. Until recently they were largely protected from malware by the language barrier, but that is changing as translated or original versions of dangerous code are starting to appear in the Slovak language. Data protection experts are trying to respond to this in time and provide solutions in the form of more effective antivirus and safety software or education on how to protect one’s mobile phone.

“Because Slovakia is a small country and very few people speak Slovak globally, we have a bit of luck,” Zuzana Hošalová, spokeswoman for the computer security software company ESET, told The Slovak Spectator. This means there have been fewer attacks focused on Slovakia, as contagions need to be “Slovakised”.

“This rarity [of the occurrence of the Slovak language] has its drawbacks – if an attacker creates Slovakised malware, people get caught up in it more often because they have never met with a similar assault and do not know how to respond,” she added.

Slovakia is quite a small market, making it unlikely that inventing specific malware would be worth the effort, said Filip Chytrý, a malware analyst of Czech IT security company AVAST.

“Everything is happening globally,” Chytrý told The Slovak Spectator, adding that there have also been examples of malware designed to target certain geographic regions. There was, for example, a new Trojan called Hesperbot designed to abuse online banking data and access money on users accounts. Hesperbot originally targeted Turkey, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

So-called police ransomware spread significantly in Slovakia last year, Hošalová said. This malicious code acts as a police warning that informs users about blocking their computers for fictional child pornography reasons. ESET also warned about new forms of phishing in Slovakia. For example, a dangerous phishing email signed by the Tax Office sent out around tax time that induces recipients to upload a certain document. Other Trojan horses target sensitive data in the form of access data to various web services, including internet banking. A worm spread by the help of Skype called Dorkbot seeks to steal user names and passwords, according to Hošalová.

Robert Šefr, a consultant for the IT security company COMGUARD, recalled that mobile phone malware is celebrating its 10th anniversary as the first malicious code able to infect mobile phones was detected in 2004. That was called Cabir and affected the Symbian operating system. Though it was not itself fundamentally harmful, it got the ball rolling on mobile malware.

“The long-term world hit in malware is sending premium short messages, although the trend of their occurrence is already decreasing,” Šefr told The Slovak Spectator.

Android is most targeted

According to the Cisco and Kaspersky security reports from early 2014, more than 98 percent of malware targets devices running on Android operating systems. Most attacks target Asian and European users.

“The Android platform is rolling the market,” Hošalová said. “Malware creators know about this and they are going everywhere where there are people and, thus, also money.”

Chytrý emphasises that it is necessary to follow the tendency for viruses to spread on the Android, which is similar to how it occurs on the popular Windows operating systems for PCs – though it moves much faster on phones.

“If you look at the history, this all gets repeated on mobile platforms,” said Chytrý, adding that the greatest boom will probably come in botnets, i.e. applications providing attackers with complete access to the victim’s mobile device via a command and control server.

Trend Micro, an internet security and threat management company, is also issuing warnings. Their 2013 security report predicted that the popularity of the Android operating system means that the number of new harmful and high-risk applications developed for this platform this year will be about 3 million, more than the 1.4 million new cases in 2013. New types of banking malware, phishing, and ransomware within social networks will likely be the most common, the report said.

According to Šefr at COMGUARD, Google (which owns and licenses the Android operating system) tries to respond to these new malware issues, but the architecture of the operating system gives them limited opportunities.

“One of their reactions was implementation of Google Play Bouncer that should actively analyse applications exhibited through Google Play and identify malware,” Šefr said.

Playing defence

Telecom experts concur that it is important for smartphone users to be cautious in their everyday use of mobile devices.

“The hazard of infecting mobile devices is real because smartphones are actually pocket computers which are necessary to protect with safety software, just like a PC,” Alexandra Piskunová, spokeswoman for mobile operator Orange Slovensko, told The Slovak Spectator.

The threat of malware infection increases exponentially as the use of smartphones and tablets grows, Slovak Telekom spokesman Tomáš Palovský said.

“We are trying to educate and protect our customers because of this threat,” he told The Slovak Spectator.

Telefónica Slovakia, which provides mobile services under the O2 brand, recommends that customers not visit websites with potential risk, open email attachments from unknown senders or download files from unknown sites, spokeswoman Martina Jamrichová told The Slovak Spectator.

According to Chytrý of AVAST, the best way to protect personal and business data is using anti-virus applications, common sense, downloading software only from official markets and blocking installations from unknown sources.

Šefr of COMGUARD said that the core of security is the cautiousness of users, but that users also need to use technical counter-measures.

“A mobile antivirus for the Android operation system should already be a must for mobile users,” said Šefr.

Currently, there is no problem to secure a device with basic essential defence against dangerous code that is downloadable as an application from an app store, according to insiders.

Hošalová stresses that users should check their invoices of calls and text messages, because they can find that their phone has sent messages to toll services without their knowledge.

More malware expected

Mobile software experts expect that mobile malware will increase and warn about a rising share of mobile applications tracking their users. In this respect, Šefr pointed to security company McAfee, which discovered an interesting relationship between the amount of information sent by mobile applications and the presence of malware.

“In apps, which collected and sent large amounts of device telemetry information (localisation, identificator of the user and the device, contacts and so on), in the end malware was uncovered,” said Šefr.

According to Hošalová, users should protect their mobile devices .

“People use an increasing number of mobile devices, like mobiles or tablets, but they are failing to realise that these are actually pocket-format computers,” said Hošalová. “They have a lot of sensitive data in them and they can lose money, just like when an attacker attacks a computer.”

Peter Adamovský is a student of the University of Economics in Bratislava.