Cyber Security

Mobile Malware – How to Protect Your Phone from Malicious Software

January 2, 2014

Bita Beigishah
Mobile Malware

While malware infections are commonly reported by desktop and laptop PC users, especially those running the Windows operating system, they are not the only ones at risk. Mobile malware is predicted to be a leading security concern throughout 2014.

As the popularity and usage of mobile devices, such as tablets and mobile phones, has increased over the years, so has the number of programs designed to exploit these systems. In the second half of 2013 alone, the amount of malware specific to Google’s Android OS grew by 33%. This operating system also faces about 90% of all mobile malware threats; malware authors will intentionally design their programs to target Android because it currently holds the highest percent of the entire mobile phone market. Malware programs are not as frequently identified as targeting BlackBerry, iOS or the Windows platforms, but that’s not to say that these systems are completely immune to the risk.

When it comes to PC security, there is a lot of information out there on how you can avoid and identify a malware infection. Given the availability of many types of free security suites and anti-virus programs for the PC, a large number of users have installed some form of protection on their machines. However, less attention is given to security software in the smartphone world. Since your mobile phone has the same capabilities of a computer, you need to pay just as much attention to the similar security considerations available for your specific mobile platform.

Here are some best practices to follow in order to better protect yourself and your phone from attacks:

1.  Set a Password for Your Lock Screen

While it may not exactly be a way to protect yourself once malware has infected your system, setting up a password to unlock your phone does give you some basic-level protection. First, it will prevent a person that has physical access to your phone from viewing your private information. It will also prevent someone from accessing your device and downloading a malicious app directly to it.

2. Use Caution When Downloading New Apps

When shopping for new apps, be skeptical of the applications you wish to download. Before you begin a download, make sure the app is reputable by checking out its reviews and the amount of downloads it receives. However, keep in mind, that a very high number of reviews and downloads could also be a sign of spam, so if it seems unnaturally high, go with your gut and just avoid it. Also, try to avoid downloading from third-party app stores which contain a significantly higher percentage of malicious applications.

3. Always Keep Your OS and Apps Updated

If you use a PC, you know the importance of keeping your operating system and any program that uses the Internet updated. The same goes for smartphones. If a security vulnerability is uncovered on mobile software, the developers behind it will quickly start to patch it. However, in order to benefit from it, you will need to keep your OS and your apps updated to their latest versions. While it may seem a bit annoying to have to wait a few minutes for the updates to complete, it is a habit that you should start to develop, especially since the amount of security threats specifically targeted to smartphones will only increase in the future.

4. Regularly Perform an App Check-Up

Always keep a mindful eye of which apps you have downloaded onto your device and how your phone normally operates. If your phone starts losing battery life faster than normal or your data usage is significantly higher than normal that can be a sign of malicious activity. Often times if malicious software is running in the background of your phone it will start to drain your battery at a much faster rate than usual. Increased data usage or a higher than normal bill can also be the sign of fraud, one popular example occurs when the scammer sends premium text messages through your account in order to generate a quick profit. Also, if you notice any abnormal applications on your phone that you did not purposefully download, be sure to delete them as soon as possible because they could also be the source of malicious software.

Finally, when checking on the current operating status of your apps also look to see what other applications each app can access. If an app is particularly invasive, in that it automatically connects or accesses many other apps on your mobile device, it can spread and magnify the effects of malware, should it be present. Try to limit the amount of access any given app has and if it still seems too invasive consider removing it from your device.

5. Never Save Passwords

Saving passwords to various websites and online services that you use, such as email and social media, may seem very convenient at first. But it is also one of the biggest security risks that you can expose yourself to. If malware infects your phone, it may have a way to retrieve these passwords allowing scammers access to your accounts, and other PII, that can be easily used against you. If you lose your phone or it gets stolen, anyone who has it will now have access to all of your logins, and possibly credit card information, if it is saved within your accounts, without even having to guess your password. Having to type your user name and password each time may seem time consuming, but remember that recovering from identity theft will waste even more of your valuable time.

6. Be Especially Careful With Rooted Phones

Some more advanced users will choose to root their Android device, which can actually be quite handy if you want to truly customize your phone or to unlock certain features that may have been blocked by your carrier, such as tethering. However, when you root your phone, you will also allow apps to have “root access,” which intentionally bypasses the security features of the Android OS. This makes a malicious app running on a rooted phone even more dangerous, as it can essentially move throughout and take over your entire phone including your contact lists, account usernames and passwords, banking information and more.

When you root your phone, you will most likely have installed Superuser, which will allow you to give full root privileges to some programs. You should always display caution when deciding which programs you grant this privilege to.

7. Install Malware Protection on Your Mobile Device

Even though the market for mobile security software is still in its emerging stage, it is rapidly growing and there are still plenty of options to choose from, especially for an Android device. In order to maintain the security of your device, you should have malware protection installed on your phone, just as you would on your computer. Since malware attacks that target mobile platforms are growing, it is essential that you have some form of protection on your phone.

Some popular security apps for an Android OS come from the following manufacturers:

  • TrustGo
  • Symantec
  • Bitdefender
  • Sophos
  • Avast
  • Kaspersky
  • F-Secure
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