Anti-virus firms push security software for mobile devices

— -- The prospect of consumers and employees physically losing information-packed mobile devices, or getting them hacked, is driving a red-hot sector of the tech industry: supplying mobile security.

Research firm IDC says global spending on mobile security is on track to balloon to $1.9 billion by 2015, up from $407 million in 2010.

PC antivirus companies Symantec, McAfee, Trend Micro and Webroot, among others, are stepping up efforts to market their mobile security services to consumers.

A subscription, which typically costs about $30 per year, includes antivirus protection, backup data storage and technology to locate a lost or stolen mobile device. Some offerings also include safe browsing, parental monitoring and the ability to remotely lock a missing device and even wipe clean all the sensitive data it contains.

"Security is not just about antivirus anymore," says Kevin Mahaffey, chief technical officer of Lookout Mobile Security, which specializes in security services for Android and BlackBerry handsets. "Security involves everything that could go wrong with your mobile device."

The threat was highlighted last week after someone hacked into Scarlett Johansson's text messages to steal and circulate nude photos of the actress.

Other players are moving to cash in. AT&T recently announced a partnership with Juniper Networks to develop a mobile security platform for businesses and consumers. New software services, delivered over the Internet, are expected to be available later this year. The idea is to integrate mobile security services into the wireless Internet connection supplied by AT&T, then sell annual subscriptions for different packages of security services. .

"Everyone recognizes that mobile devices have gone from being a convenience to being a necessity," says Ed Amoroso, chief security officer at AT&T. "As the value of the asset increases, attention to security increases, as well."

Mobile devices are "uniquely more sensitive than PCs" since "the device is with you all the times," says Trend Micro's Tarek Alawdeen.

And because of their size, "smartphones and tablets are easier to lose or have stolen than laptops and notebooks," adds Webroot's Chad Bacher.

Corporations have special concerns. Many must comply with federal laws for safekeeping of financial and health records. Sensitive company records circulating via an array of mobile devices puts some companies at risk of violating record-keeping rules, says Chenxi Wang, principal security and risk analyst at ,Forrester Research.

"If you look at AT&T and Juniper's announcement it's not just about anti-malware and anti-theft, it's more about helping enterprises maintain compliance and enforce security policies," says Wang.

Many of the new mobile security services are built around defending users of Google Android smartphones and touch tablets from malicious software designed to steal data and take control of the device. "Very often we see malicious apps disguised as legitimate games, music, and ringtones which, if downloaded, can gain root access to your device in order to take control of your apps, transmit personal information from your device, control search results, or send texts and SMS messages to premium numbers." says Bacher.

Several security firms have issued reports this year showing that Android devices are increasingly susceptible to attack. McAfee, for instance, found that Android devices faced 76% more threats from April through June than in the first quarter of this year.

The "Android Market is an open app store, where anyone can freely publish Android Apps, and it is up to the community of Android users to flag malicious or fraudulent apps," says Trend Micro's Alawdeen. "The end user has no way of knowing which apps are safe or malicious."

Google spokesman Jay Nancarrow declined comment.

Apple devices need added security too, security experts say. McAfee recently began selling an app via Apple's iTunes store that backs up iPhone- and iPad-stored photos and videos, locates lost devices and can remotely wipe information from a missing device. Apple provides a free app, called Find My iPhone, that provides basic functions for finding or locking down lost iPhones and iPads.

Several other independent app developers supply similar apps, and antivirus giant Symantec is developing security offerings for Apple iOS, the operating system that runs iPhones and iPads.

"You stand to risk losing much more than contact information. You would lose personal, sensitive photos, like so many celebrities have," says Symantec's David Cole. "The person who finds your phone might have access to any of the websites you log into."

Results of a recent Symantec survey of 12,704 respondents in 24 nations found that only 16% installed the most up-to-date security on their devices, while 10% reported being the victim of a mobile-related cybercrime.

The security companies are banking on a rising percentage of consumers and businesses finding value in spending about $30 a year on a subscription service to protect each of their mobile devices, says Stacy Crook, senior research analyst at IDC.

"Consumers are going to have to start seeing this as a must-have and be willing to pay for it," says Crook. "We'll have to see how the market shakes out. It could be a very good business to be in, especially if users have to pay for it every year."