Now that millions of us are toting around smartphones – personal computers for your pocket, if you will – it’s a question of “when,” not “if” viruses and other malicious software (“malware”) will begin to wreak havoc on your portable pal.
In fact, it’s happening already, though not in significant numbers – yet.
Malware is migrating from the PC to the smartphone (and tablet) as our computing habits change. Spammers, scammers and hackers couldn’t care less what platform you’re on, and they like an audience to make as big an impact as possible.
Last year, about 60 Android apps were caught secretly uploading information about the smartphone’s hardware, as well as contacts and other user data. Some of these apps created “backdoors,” so additional and potentially more sensitive data could be downloaded in the future. Thankfully, Google flipped its remote kill switch and eliminated these apps from smartphones, removed them from the Google Play store, suspended the developer’s accounts and notified the authorities.
Apple, Microsoft and BlackBerry have comparable remote kill switch capabilities for their mobile devices.
But what can we do to protect ourselves as smartphone users? The following are a few suggestions.
For one, Google recommends Android users keep their smartphone updated with the latest version of the operating system. This is a good idea regardless of your smartphone platform, and can generally be found in the Settings/Options or About Phone area of your device. When in doubt, ask your carrier.
It’s also a good idea to occasionally clear your smartphone’s browser cookies and cache.
What’s the most secure smartphone platform, you ask? Generally speaking, BlackBerry still reigns supreme in this department – including support for more than 400 industry IT policies — followed by Apple’s iOS, Windows Phone 8 and Android, in that order (in all fairness, Samsung has also added an additional layer of security to some of its Android devices, called SAFE: Samsung Approved for Enterprise). The problem with Android is its open-source nature. That is, anyone can freely develop for the platform and post it to Google Play. While many prefer this to Apple’s “walled garden” approach to its App Store, it unfortunately means you might be compromising some privacy and security – though Google has vowed to be more vigilant going forward.
Also, keep in mind the Android ecosystem is a bit more complicated because there are a number of devices by different manufacturers, a wide variety of screen sizes and multiple carriers.
Next, be cautious when downloading apps from little-known developers. Read reviews, visit the developer’s website to get a feel for them and perhaps wait a month or so before downloading a new app from an unfamiliar source to see if there are any issues reported.
On a related note, just as you wouldn’t click on a suspicious email attachment on your computer, refrain from doing it when reading email on your smartphone. Immediately delete any suspicious text messages you receive and hang up on callers who claim they’re calling from “Tech Support” or “Microsoft” as they’re just trying to scam you out of money.
Finally, while they’re not too popular – yet — many computer security software companies are creating versions of their products for smartphones. If you’re concerned, look into whether the company you already use for PC protection also offers a mobile version, such as offerings from Norton and McAfee.