But maybe not, if you take the necessary precautions to safeguard your device!
In a continuously-growing, innovative world of technology, more and more information is available across all sorts of platforms – including mobile devices. In fact, smartphones and tablets have generally replaced conventional PCs in many regards due to similar functionality but added mobility and ease of use. You can essentially do everything on your mobile device as you could do on your personal computer at home, which also means downloading what many refer to as a “virus”.
A “virus” is a program that replicates itself by attaching to another program and became a popular term to refer to all types of malicious software (‘malware’) on personal computers. Most people think of any malicious software as a virus, even though that would be technically inaccurate. Fortunately, in the case of smartphones and tablets using Android (or jailbroken iPhones/iPads in some cases), there has been no malware that has been discovered to replicate itself like a PC virus can – however, there are many types of malware out there in which you should still be aware.
Malware is software designed to secretly control a device and steal private information or money from the device’s owner. Malware has been programmed to do anything from steal passwords and account numbers off of mobile devices, put false charges on user accounts, or even track a user’s location and activity without their knowledge. Fraudsters and scammers make it their job to camouflage malware as innocent-looking mobile apps on app stores and websites. Once installed, these apps may appear to work just as described, but they can be busy with additional secret agendas. Some apps start out seemingly docile, but are given malicious capabilities after a seemingly routine software update or the installation of a partner app.
It can be difficult to know if you’ve downloaded malware, adware, or became victim of a ‘keylogger’ (a program that records the user’s keystrokes to gain fraudulent access to passwords and other private information). Some key indicators that you may have downloaded malware or another form of invasive software include but are not limited to:
Spikes in data usage
While some malware may start out as idle, most are busy trying to steal your information and transmit it via your data connection. If your service provider does not offer unlimited 4G LTE data, you may be looking at high overage fees or throttled data. It is possible to monitor data usage and set data limits each app may use under that respective setting in ‘Wireless & Networks’.
Since malware runs in the background and is typically not noticeable, battery draining can be one of the harder symptoms to detect. There can be many explanations for why your battery could be draining more quickly than usual – screen brightness turned up, pre-existing battery issues, etc. In many cases, though, a quick malware scan from a security app may yield better results than a ‘battery optimization app’ or using the device’s power-saving mode.
Slow, ‘clunky’ performance
Your data is being used, your battery is being drained, and basically your device is working over-time without the extra compensation. If you’ve closed all your apps that are running and still notice a high percentage of your device’s RAM being used, then you may have downloaded malware.
Dropped calls/service disruption
Another symptom that can be a bit harder to detect, it is always wise to check with your current service provider when experiencing an influx of service disruption – dropped calls, texts that are sending, etc. While most of these issues can be explained by other means, the fact that malware can interfere with more basic functions on the device means that it can interrupt the non-harmful apps you use every day!
While malware is something that should be taken seriously, you shouldn’t fret if you are informed and take preventative measures to defend your devices and personal information. Here are a few tips to help you get started
Software updates and security settings
1) Regular software updates released by your device’s manufacturer or service provider can fix a lot of issues or bugs that appear as ‘malicious’, or troublesome, but are generally not outside of the annoyances they cause. ‘Verify Apps’, which is a check-box that may be enabled in the security settings of the device, will help prevent apps from running that would otherwise harm your device.
Browsing and downloading habits
2) User behavior greatly influences your risk of encountering malware. One of the number one ways to avoid downloading malware is to only visit or download apps from sites you trust – and with ‘third party’ apps, you want to make sure to read reviews from reliable sources beforehand! Generally, the safest bet is to stick with downloading well-known apps from reputable markets like the Google Play Store, in addition to having a security app such as ‘Lookout’ to scan apps and files for threats. (Both come pre-installed on most Android devices.) Besides that, scammers often include minor grammatical errors, which is noticeable in e-mail addresses, URLs, or just the message they send themselves! (Refer to title: “Blocked up” Blocked up from what? Eating too much cheese? Sounds like a scam.)
Anti-malware and other security apps
3) With Lookout and other mobile security apps, you can effectively detect and detain nearly all forms of malware. While ‘the essentials’ are included in the free versions, you can upgrade to a low-cost premium version of most security apps to include things like: cloud back-ups, safe web browsing, theft alerts, and privacy protection. Not only can you back up your information to a secured cloud server, but you can remotely shut down and erase all content from your current device if it should turn up lost or stolen – meanwhile the location of your device pops up on Google Maps!
Recommended Security Apps
Lookout Security & Antivirus 9.3 Premium (Free; Premium – $2.99/month or $29.99/year)
-Aesthetically-appealing, user-friendly interface
-Fast scanning and great malware/adware protection
-‘Signal flare’ and theft alerts
-Lack of SMS commands
-Steeper ‘Premium’ cost compared to similar apps
Bitdefender Mobile Security & Antivirus (Free; Premium – $1.49/month or $15.95/year)
-More than reasonably priced yearly ‘Premium’ subscription
-Not very processor or battery intensive
-Privacy Advisor – i.e. what info your apps share
-Supports smartwatches or ‘Android wear’
-No remote camera access or call blocking
-Malware scan requires Internet/data connection
Avast! Mobile Security & Antivirus (Free)
-Desktop and mobile support
-Strong malware and anti-theft protection
-Tons of features (SMS commands, File Shield, etc)
-Requires more user set-up and time learning app
-Web interface leaves a little to be desired
The threat of malware should not be something that scares you away from using your device to the fullest, but it should still be considered a “threat”. If you remain informed and follow some of the tips outlined in this article, you should never have to worry about whether some bored hacker will steal your personal information – because they simply won’t. Theft of your device may be a whole different story, but if that is the case then know that most security apps (including all those recommended) feature anti-theft protection. Your personal information will still be secure, even at the loss of your phone or tablet.