Mobile fraud: the China crisis

Mobile fraud: the China crisis

By Dilip Mistry

The BBC recently published a story on the growth of China as a hub for cyber-criminal activity and mobile fraud.  Amongst the various scams outlined, originally from a Trend Micro report called The Mobile Cyber Criminal Underground Market in China, were the ability to send bulk spam text messages at a rate of up to 9,600 messages per hour, the use of Premium numbers to scam people and the use of Apple’s iMessage system to send spam messages.

Included in the report was also the issue that more and more people are going online for the first time via the mobile phone.  This is an issue for a number of reasons.

First, the spam detection and removal capabilities on mobile phones are currently vastly inferior to those on the PC.  These will need to improve quickly.   A typical day in the office sees as many as 20% of all email messages being sent directly to spam – this simply is not the case on the mobile phone currently.

Secondly the threat of a virus or phishing attack on mobile is greater than on the PC.  It is easier to click to an unknown site or to download a file without realising its contents might be fake.  PC users have been well educated in the dangers of opening ZIP files – but knowing the file format on a mobile is not as easy.  Having said this, the risk of receiving a virus on a mobile phone that downloads only from the official app stores is still relatively small.

The bigger threat comes from user naivety.  The issue here is that spammers and scammers have become more cunning.  Who could forget their first email from Nigeria outlining the 419 scam?  PC users did not need to be particularly suspicious to realise that the likelihood of someone wanting to share millions of pounds was ludicrous.

These days the scammers and spammers are far more sophisticated – but mobile web users may not be.  This is why the risk of fraud is most likely where users are accessing the internet for the first time from a mobile.  The internet is a wondrous new place when first discovered and it is easy to get immersed within it.

Young people in emerging markets are particularly vulnerable and mobile operators and industry bodies need to ensure that they are protected.  With the growth in mobile commerce, banking and access to information, the mobile internet is transforming lives across the world for good.  It is essential to ensure that this is not compromised by fraud.