Watch out for mobile malware
Smartphones are among the most used electronic devices today, and many of them run Google’s open-source operating system, Android. In fact, according to Strategy Analytics, Android gadgets constitute 81.3 percent of all smartphones. The mobile platform is also home to millions of apps, made by developers across the globe, and is continuously fostering new ideas every day.
Unsurprisingly, however, this success hasn’t come cheap. In the recent years, Android’s popularity has caught the attention of cybercriminals, who have consistently exploited its vulnerabilities to illegally gain personal information from its vast pool of phone users.
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Now, a new report has surfaced claiming that over 30 high-end smartphone models from major brands like Samsung, LG, Asus, Nexus, Lenovo, and Oppo have been found pre-loaded with malware. Apparently, these gadgets are being distributed in Asia, Europe, and the United States by two unidentified companies.
We can no longer downplay the fact that mobile malware is rising quickly, and will soon reach unmanageable heights.
What went wrong?
After a long time of being oblivious, it finally seems like the smartphone industry is coming to terms with the severity of the malware problem. Nonetheless, some questions still remain puzzling. How did it all happen? How did mobile malware, a subject that was rarely mentioned a while ago, come to achieve headline status in such a short period?
Threat analysts are pointing out that malware is more accessible now than ever before. While, in the past, it took at least several lines of code to come up with a malicious program, all a criminal has to do nowadays is purchase a virus generator, which does everything itself. Anyone with a few bucks to burn and connection to the Internet can be a hacker.
Mobile malware is still mostly prevalent in Russia and China, but thanks to these generators, it’s spreading steadily into Europe and the U.S.
Additionally, despite the apparent smartphone evolution into intelligent and sophisticated computing devices, many people still view them as just phones. Windows continues to take punch after punch from cyber criminals, and now that mobile phones have achieved computer status, they’re susceptible to malware similar to the variants found on PCs.
As scary as that may sound, however, only a handful of users have installed an antivirus program on their smartphones and tablets. Malware, especially that related to short message fraud and invasion of privacy, often finds a clear and easy path into our lives through these devices.
Keeping mobile malware at bay
Even the best Android smartphones on the market cannot guarantee 100 percent protection against malware. The better you understand the threat, the sooner you can start applying the appropriate security measures.
Here are a few tips that can get you set up on the right path:
1. Take caution when downloading apps
Experts have long advised against getting apps from illegitimate sources but, unfortunately, many smartphone users still seek out third-party providers for their favorite apps. Sure, the app you want may be costly on the official Play Store, but before fetching it in pirating sites, think about whether the few coins you’re trying to save are worth putting your personal information at risk.
The good thing about getting apps from authorized stores is that these marketplaces are frequently monitored for potentially dangerous programs. Occasionally, however, malicious programs disguised as legitimate ones, slip in through the cracks. Remember when a fake BBM spamming app appeared in the Play Store and got more than 100,000 downloads before being removed? Just because an app is in a mainstream store doesn’t make it safe.
The best defense against such malware is to always read reviews and customer feedback comments before touching the “install” button. Moreover, keep an eye out for suspicious apps with sketchy permission requests or unreasonable promises.
2. Make use of Security Features in Settings
Recent Android versions come with numerous settings that can prevent malicious attacks. For instance, a feature in Security Settings allows you to automatically impede the installation of any apps that are not from the Play Store. This is particularly useful because some malicious apps are known to start downloading automatically when you wander onto certain websites.
To put this measure into effect, scroll down to Unknown Sources and untick the checkbox.
Another similarly useful setting is Google’s malware scanner, which scans any application you get from outside the Play Store and warns of any imminent threats before installation. This measure is typically also in Security Settings, and is enabled by default.
In addition, always keep your operating system and essential apps up to date. While not all phones receive updates to new OS versions, it’s good practice to check for any new releases every once in awhile. Updates often come with bug fixes and new enhancements that can make your data even safer. Hackers and malicious developers are constantly refreshing their skills with new ways of penetrating the system. Updating your software ensures you stay ahead of them at all times.
To check for an update in Android, go to About Phone in Settings, and select System Updates.
3. Install an Antivirus program
The Play Store harbors hundreds of antivirus applications that are designed to offer an extra layer of protection against malware. Choosing the right one can sometimes be challenging but, thankfully, you can easily find most of the well-known apps with a simple “antivirus” search.
Companies like AVG, Bitdefender, Avast, Kaspersky and Norton are among the most trusted brands, while newcomers like Lookout and TrustGo have achieved consistently great feedback.
Many of the essential features in these antivirus apps are free, but they also offer additional services, such as anti-theft protection, Web monitoring, remote wiping, and so on, at a small monthly fee.
The recent trends in mobile malware have left many smartphone owners shaken, or at the very least, concerned. Google and other players in the industry are working tirelessly to uphold the security of our personal information.
To be safe, however, have all the relevant measures in place, and most importantly, exercise vigilance when browsing the internet or using an app. One small mistake is all it could take to put your phone at risk.
Article by Jo-Ann Coetzee