Phishing Is On The Rise. Why You Need a Mobile Security Strategy

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The ubiquity of mobile devices in business makes them a tempting target for attackers. Our devices do everything from checking work email and facilitating real-time communication to unknowingly accessing intellectual property (IP) all on the go. Today, mobile devices are an essential tool because they hold passwords, email accounts, credit card and payment data, and biometric data that is often used for multifactor authentication (MFA), which all have increased the quality of our lives. Therefore, mobile security is more crucial than ever for a strong security posture.

The rise in mobile phishing attacks shows how malicious actors are aware of the weak links in enterprise attack surfaces. According to the 2022 Verizon Mobile Security Index, 83% of organizations fell victim to a phishing attack in 2021, a staggering jump from 46% in 2020. Data’s increasing value drives these criminals to keep evolving attacks, but one thing remains top of mind, human error. In 2021 alone, over 2 billion new mobile malware samples emerged, leaving individuals oblivious to these threats. While that’s no surprise, attackers leverage trojan malware or phishing as popular methods to gain daily access to our phones. As a result, threats are only increasing, and organizations must develop a mobile-specific security strategy to stop the onslaught.

Cybercriminals use many routes, taking advantage of mobile-related gaps in security measures. So let’s take a look at why mobile threat detection is the cornerstone of today’s modern security strategy in an increasingly fluid workplace.

Pitfalls Leading to Phishing

Social engineering is one of the most powerful tools for attackers, which is why Verizon notes that the human element accounts for 82% of breaches, including those from phishing attacks. Human error is the leading cause of phishing attacks because people are easily tricked into making mistakes through legitimate-looking information and untrustworthy links. Users on mobile devices are also hampered by smaller screens and mobile-first interfaces that limit information visibility, reducing the ability to identify common red flags or attacks.

Adding to the challenge, mobile devices are often poorly controlled, leading to inconsistency in applied patches, installed applications, or networks utilized. As much as we use them, enterprises have not adequately addressed these devices’ mobile attack surfaces and vulnerabilities. Attackers understand this. They use phishing attacks targeted at mobile users and entice them to take dangerous actions that take advantage of the vulnerable state of their devices, putting sensitive enterprise systems and information at risk.

Why Mobile Endpoint Security Matters

Mobile endpoints, by their nature, are insecure. Mobile devices have operating system (OS) vulnerabilities and are open to misconfigurations, system tampering such as “rooting,” as well as mobile application exploits. Even if the device is hardened, not using secure access points or using public networks such as a coffee shop’s Wi-Fi or running personal mobile applications circumvents organizational efforts to secure the device. This leaves enterprises vulnerable to data loss and theft because it creates a potential access point for attackers to leverage in accessing corporate resources directly.

A mobile endpoint’s technology is unlike a traditional endpoint, whereas around-the-clock visibility surrounding mobile endpoints can be nearly impossible with traditional endpoint detection and response (EDR) tools. Smartphone operating systems are locked down; this renders EDR tools ineffective because a mobile device requires kernel access for detection.

With users being the admin, they control when the OS and mobile apps are updated, making protecting BYOD an entirely different ball game. A stringent mobile security plan is crucial to protect the enterprise from these mobile threats and risks. Security teams may evaluate Mobile Application Management (MAM) or Mobile Device Management (MDM) to lock down devices and deploy security policies that wipe the device when the first sign of danger is detected.

Depending on your security policies, legacy mobile security could check the minimum requirements, but a Mobile Threat Defense (MTD) solution sits on a device leveraging behavioral analytics and machine learning to detect and protect mobile devices against device, network, app, and phishing attacks.

Confronting BYOD Security Challenges

BYOD (bring your own device) culture adds another wrinkle to the technology challenges. Users managing their own devices are a significant security risk to enterprises. With employee-owned devices, users may be running firmware that hasn’t been updated, have out-of-date operating systems, have untrustworthy applications, or may have a malware infection. All of which place organizational data at risk.

Not to mention the privacy concerns surrounding BYOD. The privacy needs of employees and GDPR requirements lead to low adoption rates when it comes to securing mobile devices in a BYOD culture.

MDMs Lack Phishing Protection

While privacy is a top concern for employees using their personal mobile devices in the workplace, legacy IT tools like MDMs are typically used for corporate-managed devices and are insufficient at detecting, reporting, and securing mobile devices against advanced threats like phishing. MDMs do not have built-in phishing classifiers or leverage behavior analytics and machine learning to detect phishing attacks.

If anything, they only manage a mobile device and allow security teams to automate certain policies, such as wiping a device if triggered by a set policy. At the end of the day, management is not security. Integrating a MTD solution with a MDM tool can help security teams achieve zero-touch activation, instantly increasing adoption among the workforce. Employees won’t have to attend additional training to learn how to install the MTD on their mobile phones. The on-device agent will automatically install and deploy with little to no additional help from the user.

Employee Awareness Doesn’t Equal Mobile Phishing Protection

Employee productivity can be a dual-edged sword when it comes to phishing. Targets are often well-intentioned employees trying to get their jobs done efficiently. Most phishing attacks are not overt and try to gently subvert them into circumventing data security, leaking credentials, clicking on malicious links, or downloading malware.

These attacks can still subvert even employees that have undergone some level of anti-phishing training. Smaller screens make it harder for users to identify common red flags associated with phishing. Tricks such as a “request from IT” to run a scanner or install an application are less easy to identify on a mobile device. Even if some users catch it as a phish, it only takes one person to miss it. As a result, their device is compromised, exposing organizational data and creating an access hole for attackers. Phishing affects users on a worldwide scale. In fact, according to our most recent threat report, 12% of our global users have encountered phishing.

Mobile Threat Defense Starts at the Endpoint

When protecting against phishing, it’s vital to defend the mobile endpoint. Mobile threat defense (MTD) is direct mobile endpoint protection. By placing the detection capabilities on the endpoint, security teams have visibility across the kill chain: device, network, app, and phishing attacks. This approach helps identify security vulnerabilities within a device and overcome user mistakes.

Integrating threat research into a mobile threat detection solution is critical to protect users against phishing. A MTD should have the ability to detect traffic from malicious domains to block traffic and prevent attackers from redirecting a potential victim to a targeted phishing site.

The Zero Trust Mobile Approach

Managing every end-user mobile device is not feasible for IT organizations. BYOD and the broad array of device types make it a management nightmare to oversee. Using an MTD solution circumvents the management challenges, taking a Zero Trust approach to mobile endpoint security. By requiring MTD directly on a device, protection starts at the installation time.

MTD oversees the entire mobile device operation from kernel to utilization. Even if the device is vulnerable, the MTD agent analyzes risk for security issues. In many cases, MTD can stop misuse, such as dangerous applications.

However, in the cases where it does not, it will still detect a compromise, alerting teams. By chaining this into existing solutions such as identity and access management, Zero trust architecture, and master data management tools to block the device from further access until it can be sanitized.

Mobile App Security Helps Device Owners

Regarding end-users, MTD creates a shield to inform and protect them from mistakes and mobile threats. When tricked into running untrustworthy applications, MTD detects this and warns the user of which applications could be tied directly to the user’s data, what apps could potentially leak exposed information, and what are risky. Letting the user know that the app is not trusted and that they are taking a risk by running it gives the user another opportunity to reconsider their behavior. Even if the user persists in installation, MTD may be able to stop the app from taking malicious action, or it will send an alert that the device is compromised and needs quarantining.

Zimperium zIPS: Comprehensive Mobile Phishing Protection

Zimperium zIPS is an MTD that helps organizations take control of their mobile devices, protecting their end-users from phishing attacks. The zIPS application is driven by an advanced machine learning (ML) engine to create scalable enterprise-level mobile endpoint protection. With zIPS, organizations get targeted risk dashboards providing in-depth visibility into the security posture of all of their endpoints and targeting critical areas. Teams can use the Zimperium platform to establish automated actions to respond to and remediate issues efficiently while delivering alerts to stakeholders.

Contact us today to learn how Zimperium can help your organization manage and secure your mobile endpoints

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Mobile Device Security Expert. View the author's experience and accomplishments on LinkedIn.

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