Watching Out for Mobile Holiday Scams – A Note from the Federal Team

In what’s becoming a holiday tradition, McAfee released its 12 Scams of Christmas earlier this season. The scams are worth looking at because cybercriminals will take advantage of whatever they can – and we’re all less cautious while doing holiday shopping. The overall message is, if you don’t watch out, these cyber grinches will try to steal more than just Christmas. There’s lots of money, your credit and even your identity and your computing systems on the line.

Looking at the scams from a federal perspective, I noted that the two most prominent – scams numbers 1 and 2 – are related to mobility. For the federal sector, this is particularly important. Mobile computing has become so commonplace that we don’t even think about it anymore. But who would’ve thought, even five years ago, that we’d be talking into mini computers we carry around on our belts and in our bags? Yet that’s what we do: Smartphones are not principally phones but rather computers that also make calls.

Because of convenience, we’ll never give up mobility. With a mobile device you’re always connected to your office from a doctor’s waiting room; you can see if your agency has sent out an urgent notice while you’re meeting a friend for lunch; or you can check out a new citizen portal while riding Metro. That’s not to mention keeping up with family and friends on social networks, monitoring your kids’ vacation schedules, buying holiday presents at a retailer with a quick scan, or checking what temperature your home will be when you arrive.

And the tablet you might have gotten as a gift last holiday season works essentially the same way as – and are just as vulnerable as – a mobile computer, even if many people don’t think of them that way. The great part is this is just the beginning. We can’t even imagine what mobile devices of the future will look and act like, as we’re in a period where technology evolves faster than any other time in history.

But there’s a flip side to all this convenience, and that’s the risks inherent in mobile computing. Ensuring that our personal smartphones and tablets don’t get penetrated is not top of mind for most of us, but you can be certain the subject can keep your agency’s IT and security staff up at night. That’s because of the interconnected nature of what we do: combining our workplace and all its data with our social life, personal life and family. That’s a lot of information to keep secure.

This isn’t just my opinion; the experts who compiled the McAfee Labs’ Q3 Threat Report saw a major uptick in threats against the Android mobile platform. As these devices are increasingly popular with consumers, they’re also becoming more popular with cyber criminals, and we saw a one-third increase in attacks (to nearly 700,000 incidents) between Q2 and Q3 of this year.

So what’s the answer? Ban mobile devices in the workplace? Some agencies have tried, but it’s a difficult policy to enforce. Other departments or agencies allow mobile devices but restrict their functions or activities. The best solution is to think of security from a global perspective because of how interconnected mobile devices have become.

At McAfee we’re experts at doing just that. And we’re not just targeting today’s threats but anticipating tomorrow’s as well. Yet it’s not just your cyber security company that has to be on guard. We all have to watch out that cybercriminals or other grinches don’t steal Christmas, Chanukah or a Happy New Year. We want you to enjoy this holiday season safely, and I hope you do just that!

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