Mark Davison reports from Kaspersky’s  Cyber Security Weekend in Kuala Lumpur – With emerging nations in the META (Middle East, Turkey and Africa) region embracing digital transformation faster than most western countries – and the subsequent widespread adoption of smart phones among their populations – it is no wonder that cybercriminals are turning their attention to what they perceive as a very lucrative market.

Dmitry Galov, head of GReAT Russia at Kaspersky, says that up to 58% of all network traffic is now produced by mobile devices. And META consumers are keen to add to this.

“You just have to look at the numbers,” Galov says. “There are 287-million mobile Internet users in sub-Saharan Africa – or 25% of the population. In the Middle East and northern Africa there are 330-million users – 51% of the population.

“And because these regions are developing really fast and there are more and more people online, cybercriminals are simply seeing more and more victims,” he adds. “And people in Africa mainly use smartphones for their online access.”

In the age-old iOS versus Android debate, Galov says his presentation was mainly around Android – for obvious reasons.

“I’m mainly speaking about Android security because it is much more popular around the world – 66% market share as opposed to 33%,” he says. “And that means that the attention of cybercriminals is more focused on Android. The second reason is the speed of updates. There is a longer timeframe for updates of iOS.

“Also, in Africa, iPhones are not that popular and consumers are using older, cheaper ones,” Galov adds. “Android people are using older versions too, so they’re not getting the relevant security patches which makes them so much more vulnerable. Freedom comes with a price. There may be many third-party apps available that are attractive, but these could cost consumers when it comes to security.

“Apple is closed and it doesn’t have third-party stores,” he says. “And there are complex security solutions.”

Galov says that mobile threats have risen in META.

“The situation was stable for about three or four years, but 2023 surprised us,” he says. “There was a 40% increase in threats in the Middle East; a 10% rise in Africa; and a massive 120% increase in threats in Turkey.”

Looking at the main threats faced by users, Galov says they include 72% Adware; 9% Trojan Spy; 5% Trojans; and 3% Trojan Droppers.

In terms of bait that people in Africa fall for, the top five list includes WhatsApp; FilterGram; AV Sec_cb; Free VPN limitless secure hotspot proxy; and Theme_keyboard.

“So Africans are looking for new security solutions [when you look at the list],” says Galov. “But they don’t want to pay.”

There were also 381 dedicated spyware attacks in META during last year and, worryingly, a 78% increase in stalkerware from July to December 2023.

And as for the year ahead? Galov is not convinced that the security outlook for the region will improve.

“I think we will face more and more Android attacks again all of this year – more and more people are using their smartphones for work,” he says. “There is the potential threat of sideloading on iOS, but it won’t be the Wild West Show we’re going to see with Android.

“And, of course, the power of AI could be used in attacks too.”