Protecting m-wallets against malicious apps

According to a report, the State Bank of Pakistan is eyeing to achieve a manifold surge in mobile-wallets (m-wallet) to over 50 million by the year 2020. This could be a major achievement as the country has already widely welcomed the IT-based monetary services particularly e-banking. Although provision of bank branches at village level across the country is not feasible, yet it created space for the successful launch of branchless banking especially in remote and rural populations. The last couple of years have witnessed a mushroom growth of branchless banking as it remains an effective channel to expand outreach of unbanked and under-banked people. At present, around five million customers hold m-wallets to avail host of services including fund transfer, utility bills payments, domestic remittances, mobile top-ups, loan repayment and saving account features. Since smart phones, equipped with multiple apps and features, are the major gadget for branchless banking operations, there become vulnerable to security threats. The situation becomes more risky especially when the m-wallets users, mostly in rural areas, are illiterate and do not have enough understanding about how to protect their mobile phones against security threats in shape of tricky software apps. Many seemingly legitimate software applications, or apps, are malicious. Phishing attacks use electronic communications to trick users into installing malicious apps and giving away most important information. Even such software can make a mobile phone a member of a network of devices that can be controlled by an attacker. Being conscious of the situation, those using smart phones need to be extra careful in choosing smart phones loaded with security features as any mishandling or malicious apps downloading can land them into trouble. It could be more dangerous if a users phone is stolen as in this case, attackers could use this information to access the users bank account or credit card account. The m-wallet holders need to be made aware of the proper usage of security apps and handling of branchless banking in a secured way. If the target of 50 million m-wallet users by 2020 is achieved, it means malicious apps and softwares could be more active to attack. Though SBP is working in close coordination to develop a regulatory framework that supports growth in the mobile banking sector, it needs to quick to devise a mechanism on an immediate basis. It could be more effective if the central bank takes initiative involving mobile service providers to make the m-wallet users aware of vulnerabilities of their important information.

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