The Inevitable Rise of Smartphone Malware (and What You Can Do About It)
The vast majority of malware attacks still take place on PCs. But cybercriminals are increasingly turning their attention to smartphones.
And no wonder: smartphones have become miniature computers. Many of us use smartphones to surf the web, read email messages and transfer funds to our banks. These devices, then, are ripe for attack.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect your smartphone from hackers.
It’s not easy finding data on the frequency of smartphone cyber attacks. But in a recent column, CNN Money writer David Goldman does a good job of scaring his readers. For instance, refers to a recent mobile malware hack on Verizon that allowed cyber criminals to steal debit-card numbers. That attack led to a loss of $20 million.
That’s just one attack. Goldman cites numbers from Lookout Security that found that four in 10 smartphone users will click or swipe on an unsafe web link in the next year. He also reported that anti-virus giant McAfee reported that mobile malware attacks have jumped by a factor of six.
When it comes to protection, smartphone users are lax. According to security organization SANS, less than a fifth of smartphones are protected by antivirus software.
The good news
There is some good news, though. Despite the increase in smartphone malware attacks, such cyber crimes are still relatively rare, especially when compared to the frequent attacks on PCs. Goldman writes that McAfee by the middle of 2012 had found about 13,000 mobile malware types. That sounds like a lot. But the same company has found more than 90 million types of malware attacks leveled against PCs.
The reason for the discrepancy? First, smartphone code is relatively new. Programmers have learned from the many cyber attacks unleashed against PCs. Secondly, cyber criminals have done so well in attacking PCs, they haven’t had as much incentive to target smartphones and other mobile devices.
You can protect yourself from mobile malware attacks. And, just like with PCs, it mostly requires common sense.
For instance, when you are shopping for new apps, be careful. Don’t accidentally download pirated versions of free apps. The pirates behind these apps will charge you for apps that you could normally get for free.
Be wary, too, of apps promoting free virus protection. Mobile virus software usually isn’t free. A free app could be a virus in disguise.
And when you are shopping for apps stay in well-known, regulated app stores. Independent app stores such as GetJar don’t have the same amount of regulation as iTunes and other regulated stores.
Finally, be wary of phishing schemes. Never give out personal information such as bank account numbers or Social Security numbers through email.