Today, we use our mobile devices for much more than making phone calls. Actually, the way we use our mobile phones and tablets is increasingly more like the way we use our computers. It is easy and convenient to send instant messages, email, conduct business, use social media, download music, apps and videos, and even shop and make purchases. As we move towards using our mobile devices for these more privacy-sensitive applications, how do we keep our devices and personal data safe?
In this special focus, the JustAskGemalto team takes a look at the risks associated with downloading and keeping personal data on your mobile devices, and the ways you can utilize all of the convenient features of your devices while staying safe.
Are You Protecting Your Digital Assets?
Do you keep personal data – photos, videos, email, business documents, music library, banking or investment information – on your smart phone or tablet? If the answer is yes, do you secure your device with a passcode or antivirus software? Many people do not. In a recent McAfee survey, the company found that more than one third of the respondents don’t protect their data on all of their devices, while seven percent do not have any security at all.
According to Gary Davis, director of consumer product marketing at McAfee, "Consumers recognize the value of their digital assets. While they are more likely to secure their PCs, they often neglect protection for their other Internet-enabled devices. It’s like installing an expensive home security alarm on the front door, but leaving the windows and back door wide open. It just takes one open window to allow a virus, hacker, or identity thief to wipe out all the digital assets on any given device, having their personal and financial info compromised as a result."
Are viruses and hackers really that big of a threat to your mobile devices and personal data? In a word, yes. Often these threats are referred to as “mobile malware.” Mobile malware is software that has a malicious purpose when installed on your device. It can control or disable your device, and/or steal information.
The Threat: Mobile Malware
According to Juniper Research, mobile malware more than doubled in 2011. It grew by 155 percent across all platforms – Apple's iOS, Research In Motion's BlackBerry and Symbian. Note this does not include the Google Android platform, which we will discuss more in detail below.
The major areas you could pick up mobile malware may be areas that you frequently visit often in your day-to-day mobile device use:
- URLs and/or attachments in social media or personal email. Like on any computer, clicking a link or downloading an attachment on your mobile device can install mobile malware
- App stores. Though the different app stores try to monitor their stores for malware, they can sometimes sneak in. For example, last Fall a famous hacker designed a malicious app for the Apple App Store that looked like a stock market app, but was actually malware that could steal information from the downloader’s device.
- Third Party Software. Each device operating system has the capability of third party software installation, which can easily contain malware. The Android Market platform has an open marketplace where developers can freely upload their apps. While the Apple App Store does not, there is something called “Jailbreak” software, which can allow you to install to download additional applications, extensions, and themes that are unavailable through the official Apple App Store. Downloading such applications can lead to malware.
A Special Case: Android
There is more to know about malware if you own a device with the Google Android operating system. In the last seven months of 2011, malware targeting Android grew by 3,325 percent. Juniper Research said further that Android malware “accounted for about 46.7 percent of unique malware samples that targeted mobile platforms.” This is due to Android’s free and open app market.
For its part, Google is making attempts to secure its App Market. The company recently announced an internal malware scanner called Bouncer that scans apps submitted to the Android Market. If malicious software does slip by Bouncer, Google can remove the Market listings for malware apps and even remotely remove them from devices.
Whether you have Android, or some other mobile operating system like iOS, there are ways to protect yourself when using and downloading on your mobile device. Read on to find out the steps you can take to avoid mobile malware.
Protect Yourself: Avoid Mobile Malware
Though mobile malware is a threat, don’t let it stop you from enjoying the conveniences mobile devices offer. Following these easy steps can keep you, and your personal information, safe.
• Use a password/passcode to lock your mobile device. This way, if you physically lose your phone, the information on it cannot be easily accessed.
• Like with any PC, do not click links or download anything you do not trust. Most apps include reviews, so read up before downloading. Download apps that friends and family recommend – if it was safe for them, it will be for you, too.
• Do not “jailbreak” your Apple device or “root” your Android phone. Doing so will open up the door to malware, and should be avoided.
• For Android users, PC Magazine recommends turning off “unknown sources” option in the Android Application Settings. After that, only download apps from the most trusted Android sources – namely, the Google Android Market (recently renamed “Google Play”), or the Amazon App Store.
• Don’t give your apps too much access. Generally an app will ask for “permissions” to access certain parts of your device. Read and make sure you agree with the permissions. For example, a game app shouldn’t need access to your contacts or location.
• Be careful with social media. Social media attacks that place malicious links on your friends’ profiles can install malware onto your device when clicked.
• Keep your phone updated with the latest firmware, as device makers are constantly improving the security of their OS and correcting possible vulnerabilities.
• Secure your mobile device with antivirus or antimalware software. McAfee recently released “McAfee Mobile,” which contains antivirus, antispyware and antiphishing protection. The website GottaBeMobile recently reviewed five antimalware and antivirus solutions specifically for Android.
• Mobile devices give us the freedom to work and play on the go, while the many available apps make our lives all the more convenient
• Taking full advantage of all that mobile devices offer comes with risks of mobile malware
• Mobile malware is most likely to infect a phone when consumers click a malicious link, or download malicious apps through third party software sites.
• Application Stores provide an additional level of security, but common sense is also needed here.
• It is fairly simple to protect yourself from mobile malware by following the best practices outlined here, and by installing antimalware software