When you think of computer viruses you probably only think about your laptop or PC, right? But these days with so many of us owning smartphones, hackers are starting to take note and malicious software (malware) that specifically attacks mobile operating systems is starting to become a real issue for users – and big business for hackers.
Malware for phones is every bit as advanced as the viruses that target our computers so this is something that many of us really do need to be aware of. The one piece of good news is that Apple products – i.e. the iPhone and the iPad – have so far escaped being targets of malware thanks to Apple exercising very strict control over which applications are allowed into their app store, although it’s a case of never say never.
Unfortunately for users of Android smartphones there are literally thousands of viruses that have been created to attack or hijack these mobile devices. Most of the apps on the official Google Play site are malware free, as is the Amazon app store, for those who use the Kindle. Google and Amazon are proactive in seeking out malware and will delete them from their stores if discovered.
So how can Android users protect themselves from malware and what are the knock-on effects? Well, just like its computer virus counterpart, mobile malware has been designed to secretly infect your phone or tablet and chances are you’ll have no idea that you’re downloading it as it will be packaged hiding behind a genuine app that you have downloaded. Even the creators of the app may have no idea that their app has been bundled with malware as the apps will have been hacked and malicious code added to them.
So what will happen if you’ve unwittingly downloaded a legitimate app that has had malware added to it? In one instance, you may have been registered to an SMS/text messaging service which will send you messages at a premium rate thus costing you money which goes straight in the pockets of the hackers. Let’s say that the malware is hidden inside a game that you downloaded. Every time you complete a new level or solve a puzzle a new SMS message will be added to your bill for that month, so innocently whiling away your time by playing a fun (and highly addictive!) game, could actually be costing you money.
Just like PC-based malware, there are also those nasty viruses that contain ‘keyloggers’ which monitor your keyboard usage to then steal your log-ins, passwords, credit card details and other important personal information and sell them onto third parties who will commit bank fraud or even identity theft.
So how do you protect yourself from being attacked when all you want to do is use your phone?! Well just as you probably wouldn’t even consider not installing antivirus software on your computer, you should also think about installing it on your phone or tablet too. There’s now a wide range of antivirus protection available for Android mobile devices – luckily for us (and them!) with the increase in mobile malware, the security software companies have spotted the obvious gap in the market for the antidote: mobile security software.
So who should install mobile security software on their smartphone? For the time being Apple users are probably perfectly safe, so if you have an iPhone or iPad there’s not currently any cause for concern – providing that your phone isn’t jailbroken and you download apps from other places as well as from the Apple store. But what about Android users? If downloading apps isn’t your thing and you only really use your phone for talking, texting, emailing and browsing the internet you’re probably fine to give antivirus software a miss. However, for those of you who like to download apps you need to be a little more careful, especially if you have children who love to download them left, right and centre!
The good news is that you’ll have no issues using the bigger, better known apps; Facebook, Kindle, Gmail and other commonly used applications are vetted and protected. Oh and that includes Angry Birds too for all you addicts! Apps that you have to pay for are generally safe too but what you should definitely avoid doing is downloading apps from third party app stores as their security checks are not as vigilant as those of Google Play and Amazon.
Another thing to be aware of is if a free app is new. Wait for at least a month before downloading it and before you do, check how many other people have downloaded and rated it. Also, just as you should check the EULA – the End User Licence Agreement – carefully when downloading software on your computer, you should do the same when downloading apps on your smartphone or tablet.
What is the app asking you? If it’s requesting that it can send, receive or access your text messages or it wants access to other parts of your phone such as your address book, then take a moment to stop and consider whether the app in question would need those things. If in doubt, don’t download and for extra peace of mind install some mobile antivirus software.