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Consumers, Retailers All But Ignore Mobile Security Threat

Here are four scary factoids.

*About 25 percent of the 4 million Android apps currently available pose a security threat.

*About 40 percent of all smartphone owners have no idea that mobile security software exists.

*Smartphones do not ship with any security software installed.

*There is little effort on the part of, phone manufacturers, the carriers or retailers to inform consumers of the threat or security available.

Put these items together and you create a scenario where the vast majority of smartphone owners are busily downloading apps that may prove either slightly annoying or quite malicious, said Con Mallon, senior director mobile product management, at Norton.

What makes the situation even more dangerous is that even the folks who know they could download a security app don’t bother because they believe their phone is not a potential target.

To some extent these people are correct. The threat level to smartphones and tablets is still quite low, but it is growing as more people begin using their mobile device for banking, shopping and other activities that require sensitive information be stored on the device.

There are about 4 million apps available on the market and Symantec has labeled 300,000 as malicious and another 1.5 million as potentially annoying by being associated with aggressive ad placement or greyware.

The vast majority of security problems are still targeted at computers, but it is important for consumers to get ahead of the curve and be prepared. Particularly since, unlike computers, phones and tablets do not come with any pre-installed security.

This is less of a problem for Apple devices as that company does a credible job weeding out problem apps before they are made public.

However, the opposite is true for the Android market.

The most dangerous threats directly steal valuable personal data, Mallon said, but there are other dangers that may not steal information, but prove problematic in other ways.

Mallon said one of the more insidious methods of stealing information is when users inadvertently agree to give the app access to their contact list, photos and call logs. Most apps ask to access this data, but in some cases the app intends to take and use it. Mallon said Norton’s latest Mobile Security software now scans for this and warns users when an app cannot be trusted. Similar software from McAfee and Trend Micro are also available.

In addition, most software can help track down a stolen or lost phone, ID the thief using it and even lock or wipe out the data stored on the phone.

What is a true wonder is with all these potential problems retailers and phone manufactures are putting such little effort into protecting their customers.

Mallon said some work is being done to place protection onto a phone at the point of sale, most retailers are more interested in selling a $30 case and car charger with the phone. Perhaps there is not enough revenue sharing taking place to make the vendors and carriers interested, but one would think it would be good business to sell a protected device.

However, consumers must take some of the blame. It is a rare person that does not understand the threat viruses and hackers post to their computer. These people need to realize the danger to their smartphone is growing and take action.