Cyber Criminals Are Targeting Your Smartphone: McAfee

Sunday, 30 Dec 2012 | 3:49 AM ET
Biggest Online Threats of 2013
Michelle Dennedy, Chief Privacy Officer for McAfee, explains why her company expects to see an increase in cyber threats next year.

As more people use their mobile devices to access their bank accounts, make payments and store financial and other types of data, cyber attacks are on the upswing, Michelle Dennedy, Chief Privacy Officer for security software firm McAfee, told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" this week.

According to McAfee's 2013 Threat Prediction report, "Cyber criminals and hacktivists will strengthen and evolve the techniques and tools they use to assault our privacy, bank accounts, mobile devices, businesses, organizations and homes."

Cyber attacks on mobile devices can take two forms, Dennedy told CNBC. In addition to the traditional hacking and malware threats that plague traditional PCs, cyber criminals are now exploiting a mobile phone's near-field communications, which is how consumers use tap-and-pay mobile wallet services.

"Crooks are able to walk through crowds and literally bump into your phone and your steal information," she warned.

The McAfee report also predicted a rise in "ransomware" where criminals hijack a users' ability to access data or communicate to extort a payment from victims who hope to have their access restored.

(Read More: Cyberattacks 'Huge Security Issue' For US: PNC CEO)

While Dennedy said there are things companies are doing to protect consumers who use mobile devices, consumers still need to do more to protect their data and financial information. She recommends maintaining only a small cyber-footprint and frequently changing passwords.

(Read More: Cyber Crime: Everyone Is a Target)

Beyond the consumer threats, McAfee, which is owned by semiconductor maker Intel, predicts that online hacktivists like the group Anonymous will be less active but will be replaced by more politically-committed groups.

"They will be eclipsed a little bit by more and more nation states becoming prepared and aware of cyber warfare and cyber attacks," Dennedy said of Anonymous and other groups. "We will see more probing and testing of exploits to test the enemy's vulnerabilities and even our friends' vulnerabilities."

There could also a pick-up in large-scale attacks against key infrastructure. Dennedy said energy infrastructure and food supply are areas "that could shut down our economy or cause disruption," if subject to attack. These "are obvious places we need to be prepared on the information side as well as the physical scale," she said.

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