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Guidry: Tools to protect your smartphone from malware

Malware continues to infect smartphones at an alarming rate. Security firm McAfee found an explosive 1,200 percent increase since last year in Android malware alone.

Yet if I were to ask if you run antivirus on your phone, you would probably say no. Nobody mentions malware when you buy a phone, they're too busy extolling the fancy features. All those cool apps are fine until you realize some virus has been silently snooping on your activities.

Manufacturers are largely leaving it up to consumers to figure out security for themselves. While the malware problem is particularly bad on Android right now, all smartphones are vulnerable. Just because you haven't heard of a virus outbreak on your phone doesn't mean it's safe.

At the same time vendors are plying us with more ways to share everything we do via social media. And they're not necessarily asking us if we think it's a good idea.

Some threats come from unexpected sources. Virus-laden text messages are all the rage – click and you're infected. Fake apps are everywhere. Even your billing account may be vulnerable. In one recent instance, a Wired reporter's Apple account was hacked via clever manipulation of Apple's and Amazon's customer service procedures. This could happen to anyone, at any time.

Similarly, PC Magazine reported a potential problem with Virgin Mobile subscriber accounts. If a criminal could gain access to your account, he would have complete access to your voicemail and call history, and could even redirect calls to another device.

Malware can take advantage of your phone's camera and microphone by recording everything you're physically doing. There haven't been many instances of that in the wild yet, but the potential is disturbing.

Fortunately there are tools out there to help you protect your smartphone, and they're getting better every day. The important thing is to be aware of the problem, and to know how to find resources if you need them.

Antivirus for your smartphone is a must. To avoid fake apps, buy from reputable security companies like Symantec, McAfee, Trend Micro, and Kaspersky, to name a few. Sophos has free tools for Android and iPhone.

You should also enable the protections built into your phone, including the security code and the ability to delete all data after a certain number of incorrect logins. Failing to do is is like leaving your expensive car unlocked.

The same security advice for your computer applies to your phone. Watch out for malicious links and phony Facebook apps, and be suspicious of anything that looks out of the ordinary. Don't save passwords on your phone and don't use it to access bank accounts.

Never use your phone on a public WiFi hotspot. Use your carrier's Internet access instead. This gives you a private data connection without the danger of "man-in-the-middle" attacks, in which a hacker sits on a public network, siphoning and redirecting data.

Don't jailbreak your phone – that means to reconfigure it so you can install unauthorized apps. Not only is this a sure-fire way to get infected, it may also void your warranty. Be sure the password for your subscriber account is strong and not used elsewhere.

By following these tips you'll be able to minimize the risks while still taking advantage of your smartphone's features.

• Triona Guidry is a freelance writer and IT specialist. Her Tech Tips blog (http://www.guidryconsulting.com/techtips) offers computer help and social media advice. She can be reached at info@guidryconsulting.com or via Twitter @trionaguidry.

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