How to Fight Mobile Malware & Keep Your Information Safe

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Summer 2012 — Security News and Advice


By now, you’ve probably heard that mobile malware is on the rise, with dangerous applications, websites, and text messages all posing a threat to your mobile devices and the personal information that they hold. In fact, according to a recent McAfee® Threats Report1 , mobile malware grew dramatically in the fourth quarter of 2011, and no platform was immune.

Given how much we rely on our mobile devices, the real question is how do you stay on top of mobile malware and other mobile security risks? In this article you will learn how to protect yourself, while still being able to enjoy the convenience and fun that mobile devices provide.

A great way to start is by becoming familiar with different mobile security issues, and what you can do to prevent them. Here’s a rundown of some of the main ways you can get mobile malware:

  • Bad apps—Malicious applications are one of the biggest threats to your mobile device and information. They usually masquerade as fun or helpful applications, such as games or mapping tools, but once you install them they can access your personal information, spam your contact list, or even send expensive, premium-rate texts from your phone, and leave you with the bill.
  • Unsecure Wi-Fi—The network you connect your device to matters. While it may be tempting to connect your device to a free hotspot in a hotel or cafe, you can significantly increase your mobile security risks if the network is unsecure, and doesn’t use encryption to scramble your data so third parties can’t read it. If the network doesn’t use encryption, a thief can use software that allows them to access your data as it is transmitted over the network, including passwords and sensitive identity information.
  • SMS spam—Short Message Service (SMS) spam, or text message spam, are unwanted messages sent to your mobile phone. They could range from harmless advertising messages to ones that include links to inappropriate or dangerous websites, designed to steal your personal information, deliver mobile malware and thwart your mobile security. A vast majority of text spam tries to lure users into signing up for premium rate text services.
  • Malicious websites—Just like on your computer, you can run into dangerous websites when browsing on your mobile device. These could be “phishing” sites that try to trick you into sharing your personal information by pretending to be a legitimate business or organization, or they could be websites set up by hackers that include links to mobile malware.
  • Social networking links—If you’re like a lot of people, you use your smartphone or tablet to connect to social networking sites while you are on the go. But as with your computer, you can run into trouble if you click on a dangerous link shared on a social network. You could see a message advertising a phony prize, or bogus contest that directs you to a page that requests personal information. Or, you could run across an application that puts your information at risk.

No matter how you encounter mobile malware, the threats to your device and information are very real. You could get a virus that slows down or crashes your device, spams your contacts, or accesses and deletes personal files. Some smartphone malware can even access your camera and take photos at random, or even steal images.

To help protect your information and your device, follow these mobile safety tips:

  • Be careful when downloading applications. Only download apps from an official app store, and read other users’ reviews first, to see if the app appears safe. Also, check the app’s permissions to see if it is asking to access your personal information, such as your address book, and whether it plans to share your information with third parties.
  • Don’t respond to unsolicited emails or text messages. If you receive an email or text message from someone you don’t know, delete it immediately and do not click on any included links.
  • Be cautious when surfing the Web. Cybercriminals sometimes try to exploit the fact that mobile devices have small screens and it is difficult to read an entire web address. Double-check the URL of the site you’re visiting to see if it looks legitimate—misspellings, and strange suffixes should tip you off. For example, if you are trying to visit “amazon.com” and the address says “amazzon.ch”, be suspicious. You could encounter “typosquatting,” or URL hijacking, where a cybercriminal tries to take advantage of typographical errors you make while typing in the web address to direct you to an alternative website run by the cybersquatter.
  • Be wary of links shared on social networks. Even the link appears to come from a friend, think before you click. Check the URL address to see if it appears legitimate and never click on a link sent to you by a stranger—it could send you to a page that asks for personal information or downloads mobile malware onto your device.
  • Protect your device with mobile security. Use comprehensive mobile security software like McAfee® Mobile Security, which includes antivirus, anti-theft, web protection, app privacy and call and text filtering.

While mobile threats seem here to stay, you can increase your mobile security and protect your device by taking the same kind of precautions as you would on your home computer.

1 http://www.mcafee.com/us/resources/reports/rp-quarterly-threat-q4-2011.pdf


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