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Is Your Smartphone or Tablet Safe From Attack?

Stocks in this article: GOOG AAPL

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Is your smartphone or tablet safe from attack? The short answer is probably not but they will be in the future.

At the moment, only a small percentage of smartphones and tablet computers are protected from possible malware attacks. Some manufacturers of popular devices running on mobile operating systems and cellular providers have begun to include some sort of software protection as standard equipment.

But according to a new report from Juniper Research, 80% percent of all smartphones currently in use are unprotected from malicious attacks. While many consumers think nothing of protecting their laptops, the idea of keeping mobile devices safe isn't a popular concept.

The study cited a number of reasons for this. First is the lack of awareness and basic understanding of just how vulnerable the information on mobile devices can be. Most smartphone owners control major portions of their personal and business lives on mobile gear but don't realize how easily all of their information can be accessed by the wrong people.

Modern wireless devices offer all sorts of connectivity as standard equipment. That includes multi-frequency Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC, making all of those devices vulnerable 24 hours a day. Some hardware allows users to create their personal wireless "hotspot," wireless networks permitting others nearby access. Despite requiring a simple password to connect, it's a recipe for disaster.

Because products running on Google's (GOOG) Android platform are the most popular globally they are the most vulnerable. iPhones and iPads are slightly less at risk because of Apple's (AAPL) stringent control of software approved to run on its iOS platform.

The other reason for ignoring the problem is the price, or actually the perceived price of proper protection. While consumers might be willing to shell out a few bucks for a popular game or a catchy ring tone, few think it necessary to buy an anti-virus program. That's a shame because many protection products are offered at no charge to end-users if they're willing to withstand an advertisement or two every once and awhile. Companies usually charge for the ad-free versions.

Today's most popular anti-virus programs available for Android devices are made by AVG Mobile (AVG), Norton (SYMC), Lookout Mobile Security, and Avast Software (pending "AVST" Nasdaq listing; the company has filed for an initial public offering). iOS software includes apps from Norton, Kapersky and Integro.

Fortunately, Juniper Research sees the situation changing in the next few years. The report estimates that by 2018 the number of people protecting their smartphones and tablets from malware attacks will increase from the current 325 million to 1.3 billion devices.

The full report -- "Mobile Security: BYOD, mCommerce, Consumer & Enterprise 2013-2018" --  is available for purchase from the Juniper Research Web site.

Written by Gary Krakow in New York.

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