Morgan Tait

Morgan Tait is the NZ Herald's consumer affairs reporter.

Smartphones 'number one hack target'

Expert warns users as Android devices leap computers as greatest security risk.

Nameet Patil has bought a new smartphone after he found his old Android one was hacked. Photo / Natalie Slade Photo / Natalie Slade
Nameet Patil has bought a new smartphone after he found his old Android one was hacked. Photo / Natalie Slade Photo / Natalie Slade

Smartphones have become the number one target for hackers trying to cheat New Zealanders, says a Kiwi academic who has been studying global trends.

University of Auckland Computer Science lecturer Dr Giovanni Russello will this week share his research that reveals how stealing personal information, hacking into bank accounts and secretly sending SMS and emails from vulnerable Android-operated smartphones has overtaken computer hacking as the number one digital security threat.

"Users will not even be aware of those attacks happening," he told the Herald. "Android has an interface that apps can use where they run in the background. So your phone seems like it is working but they have got your phone number and are taking credit out of your phone."

Dr Russello said smartphone malware threats began increasing from mid-2012.

"They are harvesting information from the device - trying to get to your contact lists or the SMS that you have been receiving, your emails, and trying to unload all that information."

Dr Russello has also started a company developing a product to combat widespread smartphone threats.

A report by Roy Morgan last month showed more than a third of Kiwis aged over 14 owned smartphones.

Dr Russello said his product was in the testing stages and would not be available until next year, but users could protect themselves by downloading anti-virus security and only installing apps from safe locations.

He will give a talk on the subject from 7pm tomorrow at the University of Auckland's Large Chemistry Lecture Theatre, at 23 Symonds St.

Soaring data use sign of breach

Apps being painfully slow to launch, wireless internet and bluetooth not connecting and data usage soaring were signs that Nameet Patil's smartphone had been hacked.

The Auckland man's friend gave him the Android phone after she became frustrated with its slowness and inability to function correctly.

"She thought I could fix it for her, but the phone started getting slow, excessively using internet and then the apps started crashing," he said. Mr Patil said there was no evidence personal information had been stolen, but a photo from the phone appeared in a Google search of his name. "I don't know if [information] was stolen, but I had to wipe everything and install a new operating system ..."

Mr Patil said the problems stopped after he upgraded software and installed anti-virus apps.

Security smarts

* Download anti-virus software for your device.

* Only download apps from "safe" locations such as Google Play or iTunes.

* Android phones are targeted more than other operating systems because they comprise 80 per cent of the smartphone market, but that doesn't mean others are immune to attacks.

On the web

www.auckland.ac.nz/vclectures

- NZ Herald

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