Most of us are pretty savvy about spotting virus and phishing attempts (if not, keep an eye out for the upcoming blog “Spotting Mobile Virus and Phishing Attempts”). What we don’t seem to know are all the ways in which viruses are triggered. The word trigger in this article is just a fancy term for ways to start viruses AKA malware. Most people also understand that they need to trigger something that will infect their system, like “accepting” a program or running an EXE file. But did you know that NOW viruses can be triggered by sound, vibrational signaling or light?!
Here is a great resource article covering a study that tested these new triggering methods. My following comments are derived from this paper.
New Triggers for Mobile Viruses: Why is this important to you?
Though this blog covers viruses on mobile devices, there are similarities with the same kind of viruses found on PCs. The reason for this is that both PCs and smartphones have an operating system. The operating system and programs that run on the devices is what viruses rely on to do their damage.
Whether for the PC or a mobile device, the similarities of most viruses lay in purpose which is to be disruptive to the functioning of the device and destroy or capture information.
But these new triggers for viruses seem to be a step up. They are targeting just mobile devices which tend to carry just as much and in some cases MORE confidential information than a PC. Think about it - credit cards, banking information, company confidential documents, phone numbers, addresses, etc. So be aware of the information you store on your phone.
New Triggers for Mobile Viruses: Why use sensors to trigger viruses?
Typically the way a virus works is just like the common cold. It can be passed from person to person and in this case, device to device. In most cases viruses are attached to executable files (these are files that start programs). This means that a virus can exist on your device and not infect it until a human action has occurred to start the infection (for instance running a program that contains a virus) and just like a cold, human action can keep passing the virus along unknowingly via files, emails and attachments.
Traditional virus attacks use TCP/IP (or simply stated, a connection to the internet) to launch via some triggering event or by human interaction of starting an infected program. Both of these methods can be detected by anti-virus software which monitors network packets and scans executable files before they are run.
The unique advantage of these new triggers is that they are harder to detect. Plus, traditional triggers for viruses may require an internet connection whereas with the new triggers do not nor do they require a human interaction to start it.
New Triggers for Mobile Viruses: How can I protect my device?
To protect yourself, continue to follow standard protocol.
1) Don’t open EXE files that were sent to you anonymously
2) Don’t fill out forms asking for confidential information if unsolicited
3) When downloading a new application pay attention to the type of information that the application can collect from your device.
The bad news is that it is very hard for any of today’s anti-virus software to detect the new mobile viruses that are triggered by sound, vibrational signaling or light. I reviewed a couple of mobile anti-virus software that I like and from what I could see they do not have anything in place to detect these viruses.
New Triggers for Mobile Viruses: The Summary
My guess would be, as backed up by the study, that due to the proliferation of mobile viruses there is a good chance that some mobile devices may already have viruses that can be triggered using this technique.
The good news, if any, is that currently these types of attacks are rare and somewhat sophisticated to create. So at this point I don’t advise locking your phone in a sound and light proof case. But it is best to keep aware of the threats that exist for your mobile device.