As smartphones and other mobile devices become more capable, they replace personal computers for many functions, including sensitive ones that involve payment and an exchange of personal information.
While that's made it easier for consumers — who can browse, bank, shop, and work anywhere — it has made mobile a more attractive target for cybercriminals.
Malware, which is short for malicious software, has been wreaking havoc on personal computers for years and is now doing the same for mobile devices. In 2015 the security company Kaspersky Labs reported nearly 900,000 new malicious mobile programs, a threefold increase from 2014.
The good news? Following key safety precautions can help prevent mobile malware from turning up on your device.
Malicious mobile apps are the primary tool hackers use to gain access to a phone's data. McAfee Labs recently found more than 5,000 different versions of 21 consumer mobile apps that contain code capable of data exfiltration, file inspection, fake SMS messages, and other malicious activity.
It's important to download apps only from official app stores like Apple's App Store or Google Play. Yet even these apps aren't necessarily safe. In one instance, the malicious mobile app Honeycomb was downloaded about a million times from Google Play before it was removed. To be sure an app is safe, research the developer, read user reviews (especially the bad ones), and read the end user agreement before downloading.
Many software updates are designed to improve security, or “patch” vulnerabilities. However, many users opt to change phone settings so the software isn't automatically updated. Also, updates are sometimes blocked by the device manufacturer (which may only update the latest models) or the mobile provider. Sophos suggests researching mobile providers and handset manufacturers to know which ones apply updates.
Just like your computer, malicious sites exist that can compromise your mobile device. Watch out for any malicious links sent to you on your phone. When in doubt, don't click the link. Also, be careful when browsing sites that may seem suspicious on your phone. If you visit a malicious site, it can exploit a bug on your phone and install malware.
Mobile anti-virus software is primarily available for Android devices and can help minimize malware infections. Android Authority lists some of the more popular anti-virus apps for Android devices. Apple doesn't make anti-virus programs available for iOS, but Apple does screen apps carefully.
Protecting your bank accounts is crucial so you can never be too careful. Start with the simplest and most affordable tools available. To learn more, visit our security, privacy, and fraud-prevention page for more tips on how to stay safe online.
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