When it comes to computers, most of us are at least somewhat familiar with the nefarious tools at a hacker’s disposal, including viruses, spyware, and bogus emails.  However, virtually none of us have been exposed to such security threats on our smart phones.  Yet.

The number of attacks against mobile devices is increasing, and experts see this trend only getting worse.  The main reason is the huge number of people who now own smart phones and use them more and more like handheld computers, to store sensitive data, bank online, and conduct private conversations via text messages, for example.

According to Trend Micro, the malware count for Android devices is 25,000.  Taking on the appearance of legitimate apps (some very popular – like Skype and Instagram), the malware can steal data, spy on phone activity, or defraud users engaging in mobile purchasing.

The iPhone operating system (iOS) and App Store were free of such problems until recently, when reports The Register, an app called Find and Call snuck past Apple’s screeners.  The app secretly stole users’ contacts and also tracked their location.  Other instances of hacks against Apple devices are likely in the future.

But inadvertently installing rogue apps isn’t the only way your phone can be hacked.  Using an unsecure Wi-Fi connection gives a cyber criminal much easier access to your phone.  So does failing to password protect your phone in the event of theft or loss.

Considering the value of data stored on smart phones, it is surprising that only a fraction of users have security apps (think of them as antivirus software for a phone) in place to help guard against attacks.  Hackers know this, which makes smart phones even more of a target.

As if all this weren’t bad enough news for the individual, it is even a more complex problem for businesses, because many employees conduct at least some work functions on their smart phones, leaving potentially valuable data vulnerable to hackers.