Recent advances in the hardware capabilities of mobile hand-held devices have fostered the development of open source operating systems and a wealth of applications for mobile phones and tablet devices. This new generation of smart devices, including iPhone and Google Android, are powerful enough to accomplish most of the user tasks previously requiring a personal computer. Moreover, mobile devices have access to Personally Identifiable Information (PII) from a full suite of sensors such as GPS, camera, microphone and others.
In this paper, we discuss the security threats that stem from these new smart device capabilities and the online application markets for mobile devices. These threats include malware, data exfiltration, exploitation through USB, and user and data tracking. We present our ongoing research efforts to defend or mitigate the impact of attacks against mobile devices. Our approaches involve analyzing the source code and binaries of mobile applications, kernel-level and data encryption, and controlling the communication mechanisms for synchronizing the user contents with computers and other phones including updates or new version of the operating system or applications over USB. We also explain the emerging challenges in dealing with these security issues when the end-goal is to deploy security-enhanced smart phones into military and tactical scenarios.