Tread Carefully on Cell Phone Banking

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ZDNet reports that Cingular Wireless is testing a banking by cell phone application. The idea certainly makes sense, but it simultaneously raises all sorts of red flags.


Today, there are a tremendous amount of security threats to mobile devices and wireless, from man-in-the-middle attacks to Bluesnarfing to stolen devices. There are a lot of bad folks out there, and users generally are not too careful. Vendors are fighting the good (and lucrative) fight, developing all sorts of ways to protect mobile gear, from remote wiping to shutting down the device when a connection between it and a card the owner carries is severed.


The dynamic so far has been that the cracker community has more or less stayed away from cell phones. Traditionally, there was no overwhelmingly dominant operating system at which they could aim. The ones in use were technically limited and, thus, boring to crackers.


That's changed during the past couple of years, however. The emergence of more vibrant smartphone operating systems has increased crackers' interest. The fact that the content on them is increasingly valuable hasn't hurt, either.


Cell phone banking -- which already is available in some other countries -- would create a massive target. Needless to say, security would have to be airtight. Clearly, today's threats would only be the start, however. If banking by phone took off, there would be a renewed emphasis by crooks on mobile malware and other exploits. Make no mistake about it: These are a bunch of clever folks.


People doing their banking from cell phones likely would inspire a whole new generation of crooks. We're not saying, of course, that the threat of thievery should stop progress. We simply are pointing out that cell phone banking will give crooks their "killer app" and sharpen their attention on smartphones. The industry should prepare for the spike in criminal activity that will follow.