Lookout beefs up smartphone defenses

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The Independent Tech

Lookout Mobile Security on Wednesday began protecting smartphones from tricksters and booby-trapped websites as people increasingly access the Internet on the go.

More than nine million people around the world already rely on the San Francisco-based startup to protect smartphones from hackers and scammers, and Lookout has ramped up defenses to win more users.

"Our goal is to build a product that makes people feel more confident in their phone instead of being afraid of it," said Lookout co-founder and chief technical officer Kevin Mahaffey.

A Safe Browsing feature launched on Wednesday was part of a premium offering at Lookout, which has free mobile security applications for smartphones powered by Android, Windows, or BlackBerry software.

The free application exposes malicious software, backs up data, and lets people trigger remote alarms in smartphones to locate misplaced handsets.

Lookout is the top mobile security application for smartphones built on Google-backed Android software.

"To create a security tool that people don't just tolerate, that they actually like, is not easy," Mahaffey said. "Believe me."

A premium version of Lookout, available for $30 a year or three dollars monthly, includes features such as backing up pictures and remotely locking and wiping data from smartphones that are lost or stolen.

Safe Browsing was built to safeguard smartphones while users click on mobile websites or links.

Lookout engineers believe that hacker tactics such as luring computer users to websites booby-trapped with viruses will inevitably be aimed at smartphones.

They cited recent findings that people using mobile devices are three times more likely to fall for "phishing" ploys that use seemingly innocent or friendly messages to trick people into opening tainted Web links.

"If the personal computer is any indicator of where mobile will go, browser-based exploits will be a significant form of attack," Mahaffey said

"We spent a lot of time figuring out the right way to do this," he continued. "We don't want to get in the way."

Lookout users need only check a box to enable Safe Browsing, which then scans links behind the scenes to tell people whether there is danger ahead.

After being warned, smartphone users can chose whether to proceed to compromised websites.

"Everything happens like magic behind the scenes," said Lookout software engineer Anbu Anbalagapandianshe. "With all the phishing making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter, we think this is going to be a very important feature."

As banking, social networking and other sensitive aspects of life shift to smartphones, it is imperative to make the devices trustworthy, according to Mahaffey.

"We go back to typewriters, cans and strings if we don't get people to trust mobile," he said."I am optimistic that we can make the mobile ecosystem safe."

US telecom firm Sprint on Wednesday endorsed Lookout by making the startup's security applications available for easy download to compatible smartphones on its network.

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