Nokia highlighted an alarming rise in the number of IoT devices infected by malware in its latest security threat report, as it also flagged a trend of criminals exploiting applications purportedly relating to the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic to steal personal data.

In its latest annual Threat Intelligence Report, the vendor said IoT hardware comprised a third of all infected mobile internet connected devices during H1 2020, compared with 16 per cent in the same period of 2019.

Nokia noted a combination of poor security protections and the use of automated tools by criminals to exploit vulnerabilities had caused infections to rise at an “alarming rate”.

In the report, which uses data aggregated from monitoring traffic to devices running Nokia’s security software, it also pointed to the prevalence of hackers attempting to exploit fears and uncertainty around the pandemic in recent months.

Echoing several other studies conducted this year, it noted among the attack methods were fixed and mobile applications masquerading as tools related to tracking the virus and infection maps. Several of these have turned out to be ransomware, data-stealing malware or applications involved in conducting SMS fraud.

Nokia Software president and chief digital officer Bhaskar Gorti said its findings reinforced the need for consumers, enterprises and IoT device makers to up security protection.

“The sweeping changes that are taking place in the 5G ecosystem, with even more 5G networks being deployed around the world as we move to 2021, open ample opportunities for malicious actors to take advantage of vulnerabilities in IoT devices.”