For years, cybercriminals have largely focused on desktop devices, but everyone knew it was just a matter of time before mobile was targeted more frequently. That time has arrived. According to the March 2016 McAfee Labs Threats Report, the number of reported new mobile malware samples increased 72 percent from Q3 to Q4 2015. Kaspersky Lab also detected nearly 3 million malicious installation packages and nearly 900,000 new malicious mobile programs in 2015 – three times the 2014 total.

Mobile malware refers to malicious software that targets smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. Because so many people are using their mobile devices to make purchases, pay bills, check bank accounts and transfer funds, cybercriminals are looking to take advantage of frequent opportunities to steal money and personal data.

Although many threats are the same on mobile and desktop devices, there are forms of malware that are unique to mobile. For example, a malicious application can access personal data and send it to criminals, change your devices functionality and settings, or automatically dial premium-rate phone numbers. Phishing scams use texting and voicemails to try to get users to share personal information. If a malicious application or phishing scam is successful, you could lose all of your data, email, photos, downloads and contact information.

Mobile malware is quickly evolving and becoming more sophisticated. Kaspersky Lab discovered more than 7,000 Trojans that target mobile banking users as criminals are focusing more on monetizing their activity. Kaspersky Lab also found that some criminals try to replicate legitimate banking apps with on-screen overlays to fool users and steal their data. Some forms of mobile malware will impersonate an application such as Google Wallet and try to get users to verify their account by entering private data and payment card information. While traditional adware required a user to click an ad to activate malicious code, adware-based malware, called malvertising, only requires the user to view a compromised web page before the device is rooted without consent and malicious applications are automatically downloaded.

As is often the case, awareness of mobile malware hasn’t caught up to the seriousness of the threat. People haven’t been conditioned to be as careful about clicking and downloading content from unknown sources on their mobile devices as they are on their desktop devices. Because the majority of small to midsize businesses haven’t implemented a mobile security strategy or a formal bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy, compromised and unmonitored devices could be allowing hackers to access the company network. Meanwhile, the underground market for mobile cybercrime is growing and making it easy to buy and sell mobile malware and launch attacks.

While individual users need to be more disciplined to reduce the risk of mobile malware infection, organizations need to take steps to mitigate these threats. That includes implementing a BYOD policy, educating employees about mobile security, and deploying tools that allow mobile devices and activity to be monitored for threats. In the next post, we’ll discuss how mobile device management improves security on individual devices and across the network.