Malicious hackers are on a mission to steal money and wreak havoc – and they’ll do it by any means possible. The growing number of mobile devices, such as phones and tablets, and the popularity of social networks give them new avenues in which to expand their cybercrime this year.

The amount of malware spreading on phones and tablets continued to surge last year, and mobile infections will continue to rise in 2012 – especially on Android products – as the population of devices increases further, according to Bruce Goodwill, sales director: EMEA, LATAM and Australia at AVG.

“Mobile malware often spreads via app stores, posing as a new app or as a look-alike of a well-known app,” he explains. “Third-party app directories usually contain more malware than official app stores do, so stick with the latter. Even then, examine user reviews and do research before you download, especially in the case of new apps. Most important, install an antivirus app such as AVG Mobilation for Android and Windows Phone 7.”

He adds that social networks, particularly Facebook, will continue to suffer from an increase in threats. Through tainted websites and apps, attackers hack accounts and distribute malware, phishing come-ons, and other scams to Facebook users. The danger is spread via wall posts, links, photo tags, comments, and scripting flaws.

“Considering that Facebook boasts more than 800 million active users, you can expect an increase in threats and scams in 2012,” Goodwill says. “Don’t click suspicious links posted on social networks, even if they seem to have come from a friend; rigged sites and apps can post and send messages without a user’s consent. An effective security software suite will monitor all online activity and check each page and link on social networks to make sure they are safe.”

He adds that, as these threats increase, adequate protection will be even more essential. “Cyber criminals are escalating their use of sophisticated social engineering techniques to obtain essential information which is then used in a variety of fraudulent ways. An effective security protection suite is therefore indispensable.”