Smartphone viruses - threats, malwares and cures

Smartphone viruses - threats, malwares and cures
Brave new world - the smartphones are taking over

Smartphones are a craze that's sweeping the world, and we are yet to see any indication this is going to change in the foreseeable future. This can only be a good thing - it gives you the chance to have the computer you dreamt of a few years ago in your pocket and do all the fancy stuff you want to do while on the go. Mind, this is only the beginning and these smart devices are getting better all the time, so more features are on the way - and more features translate into more opportunities, while more opportunities ensure that we are going to store additional and potentially sensitive information on our smartphones. And here comes the issue with smartphone security - a problem that is grossly underestimated by most users, which is really surprising given the fact that a few viruses have already managed to breach the security of various mobile OSs.

Overview of two major smartphone security problems

Our guess is that we all remember the great computer virus scare - it was the topic of an era, and all new PC users were afraid that "they would do something wrong" - so it's a bit unexplainable why the same doesn't apply to smartphones. After all, they are a mass-market product now and are devices that are inherently more insecure than our computers, at least for two reasons - first of all, they are linked to a payment plan, and almost everything we do on our smartphones - sending messages, making phone calls, browsing the net, etc - involves a transfer of money. The second reason is that we keep our handsets near us at all time, so they are more personal devices than the PC, hence we trust them more.

Payment plans as a threat

These two reasons alone should be enough for us to take smartphone viruses seriously, and yet, we don't. The first reason - the fact smartphones are designed to work with a payment plan - makes sure it's far easier to steal some money from a smartphone owner than from a PC owner. That's easy to explain - PCs are generally better protected and there are not many ways hackers can directly profit if they infect a computer. With smartphones it's different - a malware can take control of your handset and send premium rate text messages or dial premium rate numbers. The bottom end for us as end consumers is that we have to pay a $500 bill rather than a $50 one, and most people prefer to avoid such shocking surprises.

Smartphones as personal devices - yet bigger threat

The second reason - that smartphones are personal devices that we love to trust - is not to be underestimated either. After all, most people tend to store their bank login IDs or some pictures from a really good party where "some of these things happened" - things, which not many people are keen to share with the community (that's, if you are not Paris Hilton. Sorry, Paris) - on devices which are personal. And what's more personal than our dear smartphone(s)? Sure, we all have laptops and netbooks, but we don't carry them with us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, right?  Not to mention that more and more people start to treat smartphones as work gadgets, and our bet is that this tendency is going to grow in the future, as these devices are bound to get more powerful. All of this spells one thing - we store a lot of sensitive information on our smart handsets, information which can be easily stolen by malware developers.

Good apps, bad apps

One more problem with smartphone security is that (at least on the surface) there is no difference between "a good app" and "a bad app" (i.e. infected one). Truth is, both "good" and "bad" apps use the same functions (like GPS, contact data, etc.) and it's generally impossible to figure out whether a certain application is infected or not simply by looking at the functions it uses. Moreover, it's reported that the vast majority of malware creators don't bother to write their own apps. This one is easy to explain - first of all, developing a program takes a lot of time and a lot of work. As hackers want to push out as many viruses as possible (because more viruses mean more money), it's not in their best interest to write their own apps. Another reason is that most of their applications are downloaded, say, 200 times, which is nowhere near enough for their needs. It's far better for them - both money- and time-wise - to tweak the code of a popular app. And that's quite easy, as all malware developers have to do is to add some "infected" code lines to an existing application. Then they republish the app in an application store - usually as a free version of an otherwise paid app - and manage to get access to your device if you download the app in question. You can read about one such instance (which was only a demonstration anyway) here.

Smartphone defenders - built-in security systems, antivirus programs and common sense

There is the simple truth that the more popular a mobile OS becomes, the more hackers start to target it. We have seen that with Windows Mobile and Symbian in the past, but the phone business is an ever-changing one, and the new generation of leaders is already here - the likes of Google's Android, Apple's iOS and RIM's BlackBerry OS are the new targets for malware developers.

Built-in security systems

However, the challenges that hackers present to those platforms are very different. iOS is a closed ecosystem and Apple limits the ways you can interact with non-native apps. Although there have been instances when its security has been breached, it's generally robust and most of the security problems on iOS gadgets are reported on jailbroken devices.

RIM, which is the creator of BlackBerry OS, claims it provides all the security its devices need and says there is no point to purchase any additional antivirus program. And the facts speak in the Canadian company's favour - BlackBerry OS is generally considered to be very secure and is the business user's mobile OS of choice. BB OS also supports full device encryption, which is definitely a plus.

Finally, we have Android. The green robot is making waves in the smartphone world, but there is an increasing number of reports that security problems are plaguing this much loved open-source platform. This is not a massive surprise - Android is growing in popularity, so it's understandable that hackers target it more often. However, the Force is strong with this OS, and Google increases Android's security with every update, so some of these problems may be sorted out in the near future.

Antivirus programs

Now, let's take a quick look at some smartphone antivirus programs. A few of the most popular antivirus programs for PCs are also available on various mobile platforms. Among them are Symantec's Norton Smartphone Security, Kaspersky Mobile Security, McAfee Mobile Security for Enterprise and ESET Mobile Antivirus. Also, Lookout Mobile Security and Antivirus Free - AVG are frequently cited as good antivirus apps. These apps provide anti-malware protection - against Trojan horses and worms among other types of threats - as well as anti-spam and anti-spyware options.

At the end of the day it's up to you to decide whether you need a mobile antivirus program or not - some people say these mobile security apps are hard to remove and slow down the whole phone, while others claim it's of utmost importance to have an antivirus program on your smart handset. Either way, it wouldn't harm you to try out a free mobile antivirus program and see how it works.

Common sense

It's important to note, though, that as with computers, the best way to stay free from malware is to be vigilant all the time. It's in your best interest to download apps you are sure about and not to get apps like "Sex! Sex! Sex!" or "Paris Hilton Sex Tape" (sorry, Paris), because it's almost certain that these apps are infected with viruses. Common sense is man's best friend and it's of paramount importance to use it when it comes to your smartphone security - otherwise, no built-in OS security or mobile antivirus program can save your smartphone.

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