Most of us use our smartphones every day, often without thinking what kind of data we are sharing across the world. But how much should we really be worried?

Mobile World Congress 2015 was full of companies emphasising the importance of staying secure when using mobile devices, which have become a growing risk for many consumers, and often house our most personal data.

TechWeekEurope met with Jude McColgan, president of mobile at security experts Avast, to find out just what consumers should be doing to protect themselves when using their devices.

Big deal

The cyber-security space has changed a lot since 2014, McColgan believes, mainly thanks to high-profile corporate hacks such as that which hit Sony Pictures, but also in terms of what doesn’t make the evening news.

“Consumers are getting hit,” he says, “If you think about all the Android devices (in circulation) there’s probably around 50 to 75 million people who were affected by security that takes over their phone – so it’s becoming pretty real.”

The overall scope of threats, what McColgan calls “the spectrum of security” is also changing; as hackers look to target soft targets which many users might not even realise single them out. This includes Wi-Fi routers and networks, which can be hijacked or infected easily to take advantage of the huge amount of people who freely connect to open networks and put their privacy at risk.

“We think Wi-Fi is going to be a big one,” McColgan says, “we all love the convenience of it…but privacy is becoming a big deal!”

He cites a recent Avast experiment which found that between 80 and 90 percent of mobile users in cities across the world were willing to open up unsecured free Wi-Fi networks, with around 50 percent then producing traffic on those networks, which immediately puts data such as passwords at risk

“It’s a big deal – you love the convenience of Wi-Fi, but it’s going to suck when you get hurt!”

At risk

However malware remains a major issue for smartphone users, with McColgan (pictured right) saying that Avast detects around 3,000 new strains a day, meaning the company found around 1.3 million new threats just in 2014.

“The malware risk is increasing,” he says, “not just in developed locations like London, but all over the world.”

He highlights ransomware as one particularly unwelcome trend, which has exploded out of Eastern European countries and is now worth around $100-150m a year.

This malware is now increasingly affecting advertising networks, often neglected by developers and users and therefore all too easily falling prey to hackers, as well as the app stores themselves, particularly third-party offerings.

Checking out?

Mobile payments and online shopping are also proving to be appealing targets for criminals, it seems, as more and more of us use our smartphones and tablets to make purchases.

The majority of this risk comes through browser shopping, where users buy items via their device’s in-built browser. The worry here is that such programs store user passwords and details, which can be hacked.

In-app purchases are also a cause for concern, McColgan says, as they can be opened up by phishing attacks that would allow a hacker to view all the data within.

Spreading wider

Overall, Avast, which has already seen over 100 million Google Play downloads of its mobile app, is trying to raise awareness amongst consumers, with McColgan emphasising the amount of research the company is doing to understand what is going on in the market to ensure it is always prepared.

The company’s new SecureMe product, which is designed to quickly and easily protect users, from technology experts to total newbies, goes some way towards this, offering a one-touch solution to encrypt data and keep customers safe.

Looking forward, the company will continue trying to cover as many risk vectors as possible, McColgan says, and is working towards developing a secure browser and new password management tools.

Interestingly, it is also looking at app discovery and reputation. Typically, apps become popular depending on the money and marketing thrust behind them, but Avast is building a platform that would see smaller businesses get the chance to hit the spotlight too.

This new offering, due out later this summer, will user Avast’s database to offer wider and more in-depth information on apps, including the amount of battery usage, the uninstall rate amongst users, and the possibility of being exposed to risky content.

“The whole area of app reputation and app discovery is so big and dense,” McColgan says, “you often get lost in the damn thing! We think we can solve this using our data, and by searching, and finally, through context.

What do you know about Internet security? Find out with our quiz!

Mike Moore

Michael Moore joined TechWeek Europe in January 2014 as a trainee before graduating to Reporter later that year. He covers a wide range of topics, including but not limited to mobile devices, wearable tech, the Internet of Things, and financial technology.

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