According to Juniper Networks, malware aimed at mobile devices increased 185 percent between July 2011 and May 2012, from 14,000 malicious apps to 40,000.

That’s just one study cited by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a report titled, “Better Implementation of Controls for Mobile Devices Should Be Encouraged,” released September 18. The report outlines common threats to mobile users’ data and device security and encourages both government and private industry to take a more active role in educating consumers and preventing malicious behavior.Mobile data security

While the report relies largely on existing studies and contains little revelatory information, it does compile facts into a convincing picture: mobile devices are targets for hackers. “These threats and attacks,” the report says, “are facilitated by vulnerabilities in the design and configuration of mobile devices, as well as the ways consumers use them.” In other words, some of the fault lies with device manufacturers and operating systems, but in some cases, the enemy is us.

The report makes a number of suggestions to consumers regarding how to avoid becoming a victim of malicious hacking of one kind or another:

  • Require a password or PIN on your mobile device.
  • Use two-factor authentication, such as a password plus a code sent to your specific device, for sensitive transactions like banking.
  • Install antimalware applications.
  • Install a firewall to intercept incoming and outgoing data connections.
  • Install security updates frequently.
  • Switch Bluetooth to “off” or “nondiscoverable” mode.
  • Limit use of public WiFi networks, especially for sensitive transactions (including any time a password is sent).
  • Don’t install unnecessary apps.
  • Configure web accounts to use secure connections when possible.
  • Do not click links or ads in suspicious e-mails or apps.
  • Do not “jailbreak” a mobile device to circumvent security controls.

The GAO report recommends that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) “encourage the private sector to implement a broad, industry-defined baseline of mobile security safeguards.” The suggestions the GAO provide are a good start.

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