Study: Smart phones threaten campus network security

Colleges have tracked a dramatic increase in smart phones on campus.

Could the size of a smart phone’s screen cause nightmares for campus IT officials? Yes, according to a Georgia Tech study outlining smart phone vulnerabilities that could make campus computer infrastructure vulnerable to hackers.

The comprehensive look at how mobile devices and applications are exploited by hackers has grabbed educators’ attention during a semester that has seen an explosion in the number of smart phones and tablets inundating campus networks.

The report, written by Mustaque Ahamad and Bo Rotoloni of the Georgia Tech Information Security Center and the Georgia Tech Research Institute, charges that small smart phones screens makes it more likely that students and faculty could be infected with malware and viruses on their iPhones, Androids, Blackberries, and other devices.

When using a mobile web browser, users will see the device’s web address bar disappear to provide more screen space to peruse the page.

“But this also removes many of the visual cues users rely on to confirm the safety on their online location,” Ahamad and Rotoloni wrote. “If a user does click a malicious link on a mobile device, it becomes easier to obfuscate the attack since the Web address bar is not visible.”

The smart phone user, in other words, won’t see that she has been directed to a malicious site because the smart phone doesn’t automatically display the address.

Computer hackers use colorful, eye-catching displays and graphics to “lure” smart phone users into clicking on an image that has a malicious link hidden underneath, out of the user’s sight, according to the Georgia Tech report.