Bonnie Cha

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Lookout Shows Just How Easy It Is to Hack a Phone — And How You Can Prevent It (Video)

If you think that only computers can be infected with malicious software, think again.

Today at the D: Dive Into Mobile conference in New York, mobile security provider Lookout demonstrated just how easy it is to hack into a phone, and offered up some tips on ways to protect yourself.

Lookout founder and CEO John Hering joined AllThingsD’s Liz Gannes onstage, where he showed examples of common phone hacks, using two phones — one acting as the hacker and another that was the target of the attacks.

One instance was a phish-y email from a seemingly real account. An email from AllThingsD boss Walt Mossberg appeared in Hering’s phone inbox — only it wasn’t really from Walt.

“We’re starting to see a fundamental shift in the attacks on mobile devices in a post-PC era,” Hering said. “One of the most common vectors we’re seeing is targeted attacks, especially with how easy it is to spoof emails.”

He also showed how a phone user who downloads a game app directly from an email, rather than from a legitimate app store, is vulnerable to malware. The “hacker” phone was able to see text messages sent to the user phone, after that user downloaded malicious content.

The tactics hackers use on smartphones are not all that different from what they do on computers. You might open up your Gmail to find what looks like a legitimate email from a friend or colleague asking you to download an app — say, a free copy of Angry Birds. But it’s actually spyware, and once it’s installed on your phone, the hacker can access private information, reset passwords to lock you out of your accounts, and more.

Lookout said these types of social engineering tactics are really effective, and can fool even smart people. It’s a scary thought, but Lookout says there are some practical things you can do to protect yourself and your device:

  • Be wary of links from people asking you to download or install something.
  • Only download apps from trusted sources, like the Google Play Store.
  • Look at the permissions before downloading any app, and make sure they match the functionality of the app.

Of course, the company also recommends using a mobile security app like Lookout, which can help monitor and alert you to potential threats. NQ Mobile, Avast, Kaspersky and many others offer similar solutions.

Lauren Goode contributed to this report.

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