Understanding smartphone malware and your risk

Understanding smartphone malware and your risk - Lovefone, London

Malware is short for malicious software, and is sort of like a computer virus, but specifically designed to target your smartphone through shady apps and security lapses. If your phone gets infected, the malware could steal your GPS coordinates, your contact list, email addresses and other personal information. Some malware can even record phone conversations, and charge you money by authorizing messages to be sent to premium rate numbers or subscribe your phone to premium services, all without your permission, or even your knowledge. Read on to find out whether iPhones really are safer than android phones when it comes to malware, and what you can do to safeguard your smartphone, no matter which device you own.

When designing Apple phones and devices, they made it so users can only get third party apps from the official App Store, where they do a “static analysis” (this means they examine the code without executing the software, ensuring that it meets industry standards) of all submitted app source code before even allowing an app in the store to begin with, among other rigorous security procedures.

One of the core safety features of iOS is “sandboxing,” which ensures all apps are kept separate from each other. This means that installed apps cannot remove system files, and cannot enforce any unauthorized actions. Deep in the DNA of your iPhone is a program called BSD, a version of the UNIX system (sort of a cousin to Linux). BSD requires that in order to read, write, delete or execute files, one must have file permissions. To perform any of these things, one must act as the “root user.” Apple designed it this way on purpose so that users cannot gain root access. Like the child-proof cap on the bottle of Tylenol, it's really for your own good.

If you really want the “bottle” open – in this case, your phone – you can do what is known as “jailbreaking.” This is the process of removing the security features Apple has in place. It's completely legal and opens your phone up to accessing a number of Apple-banned apps, but it does void your warrantee, and obviously opens up your phone to an enormous amount of risk. The largest being that Apple's root password is basically public knowledge at this point, and Apple has a knack for not changing it often. If you ever decide to jailbreak your device, be sure to change the root password first. If you don't know how, that's probably a sign you shouldn't do it in the first place – leave it to the pros! In addition, there is a form of malware that seeks out and targets jailbroken devices specifically. It's aptly named AppBuyer, because it breaks in and buys apps on your phone without your permission.

Android devices are far more likely to get malware. In fact, an astonishing 99% of all malware targets android phones. Malware on android phones often comes from apps downloaded from disreputable sources. These are designed to look like legitimate apps, and may even seem like they're doing what they're supposed to do, while performing secret tasks behind the scenes, like stealing your information. Some forms of malware start out innocent enough, but become activated to do their dirty work during a routine update.

Some signs that your phone may be suffering from malware are that basic functions have slowed down in a major way, your phone is showing an unusually large amount of data usage, you have a much shorter battery life, or you're seeing new apps that you didn't install.

To prevent malware from attacking your phone, be cautious about what apps you download and where you download them from. Only accept apps from online places you trust. Also, before downloading, take a few minutes to check user ratings and read reviews to make sure they are commonly used and from a highly regarded source. You may even want to consider an anti-virus program for your phone. There are also special programs to ensure that your kids don't accidentally download any malware, if you’re letting your children use your phone for games or internet use.

If your phone does get infected with malware, or if you even suspect so, there are some steps you can take to get rid of the problem. First, switch to airplane mode to stop the malware from sending any more information. Next, remove the bad app. If you're unsure which one is responsible, start with the ones installed just before you began to notice a problem. If it won't uninstall, go to safe mode. If it's being especially stubborn and even that doesn't work, you may need to do a complete factory reset. Before you do this, make sure all of your information and photos are backed up. This is a last resort for sure, but it will wipe your phone clean, and give you a fresh start.

Author: Rae Avery

Published
March 09, 2016