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Small Screen Big: Risk The Increasing Threat of Mobile Phishing

Not very long ago, I found myself tricked by a phishing email disguised as a courier notification on my phone. Caught up in the whirlwind of my day I hastily opened the email, neglecting to spot the red flags characteristic of a phishing attempt. It turned out to be a harmless simulated phishing email delivered by our Human Risk Management solution and had coincidentally arrived on the very day I was expecting a delivery.  Despite being someone who prides themselves on having a sharp eye for phishing emails, the convenience and haste of checking this email on the move nearly led me to carrying out an action that in a genuine threat situation, would likely have led to a compromise — a lapse I would unlikely make had I been reviewing the email at my desk.

This experience highlighted the distinctive vulnerabilities associated with mobile devices, prompting me to examine further the escalating threat of mobile phishing. It served as a stark reminder that even those well-versed in cyber security can find themselves at risk when interacting with digital communications outside the structured environment of desktop computing. According to the 2023 Verizon Mobile Security Index, over 80% of phishing sites target mobile devices specifically or are designed to function on both desktop and mobile. This blog post is an examination of why our mobile devices have become focal points for cybercriminals and how we can enhance our defences against attacks.

Why Mobile Devices are Prime Targets for Phishing

Mobile users face a heightened risk of falling victim to phishing attacks compared to desktop users. The unique vulnerabilities of mobile devices, coupled with the ways in which people use them, make them attractive targets for cybercriminals. The are several factors that contribute to this increased risk with mobile devices:

  • Small Screen Size and Interface Limitations

The compact nature of mobile devices plays into the hands of attackers allowing them to play hide and seek with crucial details, like URL or email headers. These limitations, coupled with user inconvenience when inputting on smaller screens and the general habits and preferences of mobile users, significantly amplify the risk of falling victim to a successful phishing attack.

  • Increased Usage and Multitasking

Mobile devices are used in a variety of settings – while commuting, in meetings, or during leisure time. This omnipresence can lead to divided attention, creating opportunity for the phishers. People tend to lower their guard and become less meticulous in scrutinising potential threats, a vulnerability that is cleverly exploited by cybercriminals.

  • Increased availability of corporate data on mobile devices

In the corporate setting, users rely on email and the primary sources of communication, however, many organisations are moving to unified communications platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, Slack and cloud productivity suite such as Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace.  All these cloud services have web and mobile applications, making mobile devices on of the most common methods used to access corporate data.

  • Integrated Features and Notification Overload

User-friendly features like autofill and one-click logins, though designed for convenience, also inadvertently lowers the user’s security posture. The high volume of notifications that users receive on their devices can lead to alert fatigue, making it easier for phishing attempts to slip through unnoticed. This phenomenon is highlighted in research from, where the inundation of notifications is shown to desensitise users to potential threats.

Methods of Mobile Phishing

Phishing on mobile devices transcends traditional email-based attacks. ‘Smishing’, or phishing via SMS, is an emerging threat vector. Here, attackers use text messages to lure victims into revealing sensitive information or clicking on malicious links. reports that mobile users are six – ten times more likely to fall for SMS phishing compared to email-based attacks.  Additionally, reports that the use of unsecured public Wi-Fi networks significantly increases the risk of man-in-the-middle attacks, where attackers can intercept or manipulate data.

Recognising and Avoiding Mobile Phishing

Recognising and avoiding mobile phishing requires users to be proactive and informed about the potential threats they face on their devices. Here are some key advice points to help you mitigate the risk of falling victim to phishing attacks on mobile devices and are equally relevant to desktop devices:

  • Examine URLs Carefully: Always check the URL of a website to ensure it is legitimate before entering any personal information. Look out for subtle misspellings or the wrong domain (e.g., .net or .uk for an Irish company instead of the more common .ie) which can indicate a phishing attempt.
  • Be Wary of Unsolicited Requests: Be cautious of any unexpected requests for personal data, such as passwords, banking information, or identification numbers, especially if they come from unfamiliar sources.
  • Question the Authenticity of Messages and Emails: Scrutinise the sender and content of any message or email. Phishing attempts often contain misspellings, poor grammar, or unusual requests that can signal malicious intent. Mistakes in emails are often the case where phishers are targeting victims in a language that is not native to them. The recent adoption of AI by the criminals in creating phishing campaigns will result in more accurate email content and less obvious mistakes, making it harder for victims to identify.
  • Install Updates Regularly: Keep your mobile device and its applications up to date. Regular updates often include security patches that protect against known vulnerabilities and phishing scams.
  • Employ Mobile Device Management (MDM): Mobile Device Management (MDM) is a crucial technology that enables organisations to enforce security policies and manage the myriad of mobile devices used by employees, such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Its primary goal is to secure corporate data, especially when employees use their own devices for work purposes (a practice known as BYOD – Bring Your Own Device).
  • Use Reputable Security Applications: Enhance your device’s defences by installing and maintaining reputable security software designed to detect and block phishing attempts.
  • Educate Yourself on the Latest Phishing Tactics: Staying informed about the latest phishing techniques can help you recognise and avoid new types of attacks.
  • Use Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Where possible, enable MFA on your accounts. This adds an extra layer of security, making it more difficult for attackers to gain unauthorized access even if they have your password.

By adopting these practices, users can significantly reduce their risk of falling prey to mobile phishing attacks, ensuring their personal information and devices remain secure.

Enhancing Mobile Security

In an era where the boundaries between personal and professional use of mobile devices are increasingly blurred, it is imperative to adopt robust security practices. Using VPNs on public networks, ensuring regular software updates, and employing security applications can significantly mitigate risks. Corporate entities must also prioritise security training and awareness programmes to educate employees about the nuances of mobile phishing and the best practices to counteract them.

The Future of Mobile Phishing

As mobile technologies continue to evolve, so do the strategies of cybercriminals. Future security measures must be dynamic, anticipating and adapting to these evolving tactics to effectively counteract mobile phishing threats. By understanding the inherent risks and implementing comprehensive security measures, we can substantially reduce our vulnerability to these sophisticated cyber threats.