On the Money

Cell phones a harder hack target than computers, FireEye's President says

Preventing cybercrime
Preventing cybercrime

In the cyberwar against hackers, your phone could actually be safer than your computer. That's coming from a top cybersecurity executive who tells CNBC that cell phones make a harder target.

"Using mobile devices sometimes shrinks the target area a little bit." says FireEye President Kevin Mandia.

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Smartphones and mobile devices are safer, he says, because Apple's iOS operating system is a closed environment. "You buy the apps from the App Store, a single app store, and unless you 'jailbreak' it, it's a small operating system so there's less ways to hack it right now. "

Mandia tells CNBC that for hackers, the competing Android platform is "a little bit more open so there's a little bit more ways".

But the reason mobile is more difficult for hackers to break through is, "you can't find those mobile devices via IP [Internet protocol] addresses like you can find a server at a company.

A 'drive by shooting' on information highway

FireEye CEO Kevin Mandia
Getty Images

Mandia knows a lot about cyber threats. The Silicon Valley-based FireEye has worked for more than 200 of the Fortune 500's companies, helping major corporations protect their computer systems from cyberattacks.

When hackers hit Sony Pictures in December and health insurer Anthem in February, both companies hired FireEye to fix the breach after data was compromised. However, Mandia claims that the "average risk is low" to most people's data on their own computers and smartphones.

"At the end of the day, most attackers are not targeting people unless you're very high net worth, or you're a prominent government official, or you're a famous person," he says. Mandia adds that if you're not in any of those categories that doesn't mean you're completely out of the woods.

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"You will probably be maybe a 'drive by shooting' on the information highway," he added. To keep your information data from becoming a casualty, however, Mandia suggests you practice common sense.

He says be careful and don't click on links in e-mails or invites via Skype or instant messaging "that don't make sense."

A report from Symantec found global cyber attacks against large companies were up 40 percent in 2014 versus 2013.

Frequently, hackers are successful because employees simply respond and click on tainted e-mails, allowing the cyberattack into the company's computer system. But how can companies combat the accidental employee who opens the door for hackers, with a simple click?

"If you have a company of 100,000 people, you're never gonna get all 100,000 people to never open that link," he said.

What you hope to do, he says, is "train enough people so you can raise the bar of human detection."

Mandia explained, that means "hoping one of the ten recipients" of that tainted e-mail will "detect the threat and tell security staff."

From the Pentagon to the E-Suite

Mandia's career as a cybercrime investigator began at the Pentagon, where he worked as a computer security officer. He then moved on to become a special agent in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

He founded his security consulting firm Mandiant in 2004. After Mandiant was acquired by FireEye, Mandia came aboard as Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. He's now FireEye President.

While cyberattacks continue to escalate, Mandia tells CNBC "we're getting better" at dealing with the threat. He hopes international collaboration against cyber criminals will arrive in the future.

"We're all aware there [are] a lot of state-sponsored attacks, and I'm hopeful we will have some kind of agreement" among countries to curb the wave of breaches.

Mandia sees upcoming agreement on rules of engagement in cyberspace. "So if something bad takes place, we can have proper attribution and catch the bad guys."

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