Security in 2013: The rise of mobile malware and fall of hacktivism

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It’s always fun this time of year to look back on the year we’re about to leave behind, and to make some predictions about what we might expect the year ahead to look like. We already have a comprehensive look back at the biggest security stories of 2012, and now here’s a look at some trends to watch for 2013.

These prognostications come from McAfee—the respected information security and antimalware company, not its international man of mystery founder. McAfee is one of the companies with a global presence and the skills and knowledge required to distill evolving trends and determine where things are headed.

McAfee shares some security
predictions for 2013.

For starters, McAfee believes that mobile malware will both evolve in technique and grow in volumeby leaps and bounds in 2013. The explosion of mobile devices—iPhones, iPads, Android smartphones and tablets, etc.—have driven malware developers to expand their horizons and focus on new, fertile ground.

The attackers seem to have an advantage here. Malware developers can apply the lessons learned from years of evolving exploits against PCs to target the weaknesses of mobile devices, but users seem to be oblivious to the threat and feel like mobile devices are somehow just inherently secure.

One thing to watch for in the year ahead is an increase in ransomware attacks. These attacks basically lock you out of your smartphone or tablet unless you agree to pay the ransom. A McAfee spokesperson explained, “The harsh reality of these schemes is that users have no way of knowing if their device will be unlocked even if they do meet the perpetrator’s demands,” adding, “Since attackers hijack the users’ ability to access data, victims will be faced with either losing their data or paying a ransom in the hope of regaining access.”

Mobile malware was big in 2012--and it will evolve and expand in 2013.

McAfee predicts that the concept of a Trojan app will evolve to a more pernicious threat when attackers merge it with a mobile worm so it can spread itself without relying on users to install the app. McAfee also warns that malware developers will create mobile worms capable of spreading through NFC-enabled devices to spread wirelessly and steal money from “digital wallets”.

On the other side of the coin, McAfee suggests that Anonymous will fade away in the next year. McAfee doesn’t expect hacktivism itself—or even Anonymous—to disappear completely, but some of the more malicious attacks attributed to hacktivist groups have fallen short of the “Robin Hood” aura that initially made Anonymous popular. Potential victims have also learned more about hacktivist tactics and are more prepared to defend against such attacks.

These aren’t the only trends in security for 2013, though. McAfee says the trend of cyber attacks as a political or military tool will become more sophisticated, and suspicions of state-sponsored cyber attacks will continue to grow, and warns that crimeware and hacking-as-a-service business models will become more mature.

For more about what to expect in 2013 according to McAfee, check out the 2013 Threat Predictions report from McAfee Labs.

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