As our mobile phones become more and more like our personal computers, the security risks begin to parallel them as well. Your smartphone can browse the internet, check email, and now run an application that can do just about anything. Using applications that are infected with malware can lead to some particularly nasty security issues involving your phone and your personal information. This is especially important with more and more smart phone users purchasing from ecommerce sites on their phones. Application markets such as the App Store do have regulatory moderators who remove malicious applications, however some still manage to stick around for a while.
So what can you do to protect yourself? A few apps exist that claim to be virus and malware protection for your phone similar to what you may have installed on your PC and many of these are sold by familiar security companies such as Kaspersky and AVG. However, these apps are known to be essentially worthless. Although our smartphones are similar to our PCs in functionality, smartphones actually have substantially better access control than most PC operating systems. Have you ever run an app that asked you if it could use your location, send you messages, or browse your contact list? If you tell it ‘no,’ the app can’t use that feature of your phone which then improves its security. Conversely, if you press the ‘yes’ button at the prompt, you have given the application more access and if it was an app containing malware, you have made a big mistake.
The best protection from these threats is the same as the best protection against similar threats to your PC – be careful about what you install and keep your device updated! Last year Google admitted, “more than 90 percent of Android users are running older versions of the mobile operating system that contain serious kernel vulnerabilities. That gives attackers an easy way to bypass Android’s security sandbox, which is supposed to limit the data and resources each app is allowed to access.” The lesson to be learned here is update your phone, be careful of what you download, and think about what access you need to give an application. Does that new ring tone app really need to use your contact list? Probably not.