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Protecting mobile phones from malware
November 12, 2018, 11:30 am

Wallets, pens and watches, which were once integral to our daily outfit, have been replaced in many circumstances with a smartphone. Increasingly, we now rely on our digital device to tell us the time, take down notes and pay for our purchases.

Besides their relatively mundane task of providing us with telephone connectivity and access to the wider world through the internet, smartphones also store and process loads of personal data, including about our social circles, finances and health. This treasure trove of personal information has made smartphones a lucrative potential target for hackers and placed them at risk of cyberattacks.

There are several types of malware out there, some of the more pernicious variants are:

Spyware software that can infiltrate seemingly benign programs and secretly monitor your activity, record your location and steal sensitive passwords. Such software usually rides piggyback on trusted apps that you inadvertently download from third-party app stores.

Rooting malware that can compromise your phone when you attempt to root (jailbreak) the software that originally came with your device. This provides hackers with administrative privileges that allow them to gain access to all your files. Some rooting malware can embed themselves so deep in the system that even a factory resent will not remove them.

Trojan malware that can masquerade as genuine banking app to lure customers into installing it and then steal their credentials.  In 2017, mobile banking Trojans attacked close to 260,000 users across 164 countries.

Fake emails that ask you to click on some spurious link, which then takes you to a dummy site that automatically downloads malware into your devices.

SMS malware that manipulates your phone to send premium-rate text messages from your phone and leaves you with a substantial phone bill.

Hackers also exploit known vulnerabilities in an operating system, which is why it is very important to keep your device up-to-date with the latest software.

Some of the signs that your phone could be infected are, if the device suddenly begins to operate more slowly, or your battery drains more rapidly than usual, or there are sudden spikes in your data usage.

Securing phones from malicious outside threats is your responsibility and should be a top priority, both for personal and business users. If you suspect that your Android phones may have been compromised, here are some steps to take:

Go into ‘Safe Mode’ by holding down the power off button until you are prompted to reboot your device to Safe Mode, which disables all third-party apps. If you find that your device then works smoothly, you can be confident that a virus is at the root of your problem.

Once you identify the problem, go to Settings and navigate to the ‘Apps Folder’ to scan the app that you think might be the culprit, or look for any app that you do not recall downloading. You can remove it manually by clicking the uninstall button. If you find the uninstall button not responding, then go to security settings and deactivate administrator rights for the malicious app in question. You should then be able to remove the app from the app list.

If you are still unable to remove the malicious software from your device, you will need to do a full factory reset. Back up all your important files and then go into your phone settings and erase all data with the factory reset.

For Apple phones, removing a virus is easier as you will usually have a problem only when using a compromised app. Apple operating system’s (iOS) sandboxing feature restricts every app's access and prevents any malware from spreading to and corrupting other apps or the underlying operating system.

In iPhones, first check for a newer version of the app in the App Store, as the problem may have been identified and resolved in a new update. If not, you can outright remove the app from your device by uninstalling it. If the virus is manifesting itself as a redirect to a spammy Web page, you will have to clear your history and data from the Safari browser.

However, the most effective way to protect your phone from malware is to take preventative steps to reduce the likelihood of contracting an infection in the first place.

Only download apps from the official app stores as your chances of downloading a malicious app are far lower than from some third-party app site.

Do not jailbreak or root your device. It may sound appealing to be able to download paid apps for free by rooting your phone, but this removes the phone’s protection and unless you are fully aware of what you are doing, and its consequences, do not try it.

Review your access permissions. While in some cases it may be useful to allow an app to access your location, that does not mean the app should be given access to your location all the time. Regularly review your app permissions in your privacy settings, and disable any consents that do not seem essential, and provide access only when you use a particular app.

Make sure you do not access any sensitive information, such as logging into your bank account or checking sensitive work emails, while on an unencrypted public WiFi hotspot. Attackers can intercept the data flowing between your phone and the WiFi-access point; known as a ‘man-in-the-middle attack’, this can enable intruders to steal data or eavesdrop on any conversations carried out over the compromised network.

Update your operating system regularly, especially security updates, to minimize any risks.

Encrypt your device so that all files will be scrambled and only you have access to them through a PIN or password.

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