The final instalment in our two-part series proposes eight ways users can protect their smartphones from malware.
In our last post, the first of a two-part series, A hidden threat: smartphone malware, we introduced the concept of malware on smartphones. We highlighted the results of recent reports on mobile threats and emerging trends worldwide; discussed the platforms that are most vulnerable; and finally, outlined some of the commonly reported threats to smartphones. However, as with many things in life and as the adage goes, “prevention is better than cure”. Hence in this article, which ends our current series on malware and smartphones, we suggest eight ways that users can protect their smartphone from malware and other threats.
1. Disable features that are not needed
Most smartphones have features and capabilities, which although highly beneficial, could unduly expose you, as users, to various threats and attacks. Common examples include Bluetooth, and even Wi-Fi. Additionally, carefully consider apps that require or enable geo-location or GPS (Global Positioning System), which can be used to track your location and at the very least, endanger your personal security.
2. Download apps from authorized suppliers
Authorised suppliers for your particular smartphone or Operating System are likely to scrutinize the apps they accept and distribute for malware and operating inefficiencies, which should minimise your exposure to a wide range of threats. However, it is also important to examine the reviews of apps you might wish to download, and ensure that the developer is considered reputable. Additionally, and perhaps most critically, avoid clicking on or downloading software or links from unknown sources.
3. Read the fine print
All smartphone owners/users are strongly advised to review and understand the permissions apps demand for use. Many of those permissions can be invasive and can be useful to malware. It is therefore important to be aware of the type of data and degree of privacy you might be authorising developers to collect and use (possibly against you), when you download or install an app.
4. Install malware/threat protection
Most of the leading antivirus and computer/network security companies that have developed programmes for PCs have also created a comprehensive suite of products for smartphones and other portable devices. To protect your smartphone from malware and other threats, consider installing security programmes that focus on antiviruses and/or maintaining file integrity.
5. Reconsider jailbreaking or rooting your smartphone
“Rooting” is similar to “jailbreaking”: the former is the term used for Android-based devices, the latter for the iPhone. However, both fully unlock a smartphone thereby giving the user unregulated access to the inner workings of the device, and thus bypassing any restrictions that the manufacturer and/or app developers might have established. According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), rooting or jailbreaking
… allows the user nearly unregulated control over what programs can be installed and how the device can be used. However, this procedure often involves exploiting significant security vulnerabilities and increases the attack surface of the device. Anytime a user, application or service runs in “unrestricted” or “system” level within an operation system, it allows any compromise to take full control of the device.
6. Do not allow your device to connect to unknown wireless networks.
In the Caribbean, and due to the still relatively high pricing for mobile data plans, many of us rely on Wi-Fi access exclusively to provide Internet connectivity on our smartphone. However, some of those networks, particularly if they are unsecured, can be rogue access points, or a haven for hackers and other deviants who could threaten the security of your smartphone.
7. Update apps and firmware when available.
The changing paradigm of shorter product development cycles means that increasingly, smartphones (and other devices) will go to market with bugs and other unresolved issues that the designers and developers intend to correct in due course. Additionally, it is sometimes only when consumers start using a particular device or app that certain glitches become evident. As a result manufacturers and developers regularly release software updates to address those deficiencies, which could include security patches for programmes and even the Operating System. Hence, it is a good practise to regularly update your smartphone’s apps and firmware to reduce certain vulnerabilities that might be inherent in the device.
8. Be as vigilant as you should be with a PC.
Finally, as devices geared towards individual or personal use, smartphones are more closely tied to us (as users) than PCs, in terms of usage and the sensitivity of information that can be stored. However, we have somehow been lulled into a false sense of their security with regard to the threats to which those devices (and the information they contain) can be subject. Hence we strongly recommend that at the very least, you exercise the same precautions with your smartphone as you would on your PC when using the Internet. For example, exercise vigilance when online; avoid accessing or clicking questionable websites or URLs; and install suitable security software, which is kept up to date and device scans conducted regularly.
Image credits: Stuart Miles (FreeDigitalPhotos.net)