Infowar Expert Rings Alarms About Security Vulnerabilities of Smartphones
Smartphones should not be treated as phones, but as computers, author and security consultant Winn Schwartau said during a presentation at the Air Force Association’s CyberFutures symposium this week. Schwartau is known for having coined the term “electronic Pearl Harbor” two decades ago, to describe the impact of a major cyber attack on U.S. Networks.
Schwartau still believes such an event will happen sooner rather than later, particularly given the widespread use of smartphones, or as he calls them, "intelligent endpoint devices." By 2020, there could be as many as 20 billion in use around the world. And they aren’t very secure, Schwartau said.
There are more than 500,000 software applications available from name brand “app stores” but most are not properly vetted, he said, noting that more than 20 percent are infected with malware. In addition, operating systems on mobile devices can’t be secured in the same way that desktop computers can. If someone were to install firewalls and anti-virus programs on their smartphones, the devices would become unusable, Schwartau said. This is an issue tha the Defense Department should consider as it prepares to expand the use of smartphones across the military services, he said.
“Yeah, these things are cool. But what about the bad guys?” Schwartau said.
Twenty years ago, Schwartau testified before Congress about these very concerns. He was met with indifference.
To this day, there is a lack of consensus of what threats lurk in cyberspace and whether the nation has the proper tools to defend critical networks. Schwartau is not about to stop sounding cyber alarm bells. The Internet security environment is changing from hard wires to one of an open spectrum. People access unsecured connections all around the world, he said. It’s becoming a “perfect storm of security,” the author said. “Why are we treating [smartphones] any different than conventional computers?” Schwartau said. To illustrate his points, he displayed a photo of Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg using an iPad at an airport. “The prime minister of Norway … is running the country over an open WiFi connection at JFK airport.”