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Evil Charging Stations, Smartphone Hackers: NIST Outlines Mobile Threats


A federal agency is outlining the many ways an organization's mobile devices could be vulnerable to outside threats. 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has published a "mobile threat catalogue" that broadly sketches out parts of a mobile device strategy that need special attention, including securing physical access to smartphones and tablets, as well as authenticating who is using the device with passwords, fingerprints or voice recognition. 

Security managers often "address or secure the apps on a phone and protect the operating system from potential threats," but there's a wider set of threats, NIST cybersecurity engineer Joshua Franklin said in an agency post. 

"[E]nterprise security teams often don’t focus on the cellular radios in smartphones, which, if not secured, can allow someone to eavesdrop on your CEO’s calls," he wrote. 

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NIST's general threat categories include the mobile devices themselves, which could be physically lost or unknowingly download malware when plugged into malicious charging stations, the draft said. Every element of a device's supply chain could also be vulnerable.

"[M]obile device components are under constant development and are sourced from tens of thousands of original equipment manufacturers," according to NIST. Firmware could contain its own vulnerabilities, and "can increase the overall attack surface of the mobile device."

NIST is looking for public comment on the draft until Oct. 12, 2016. Comments should be sent to 

The draft follows the Homeland Security Department's recent efforts to secure mobile devices internally; this summer, the department began searching for technology that can protect not only devices themselves but also the apps, operating systems and Wi-Fi networks, among other elements, a FedBizOpps posting said.

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