The Hidden Threats in Our Apps: Are Smartphones Safe from Viruses and Malware? Probably Not.

Android Security Suite

Since smartphones first burst onto the scene and starting gathering steam, very few owners have thought seriously about the viruses and malware that might be lurking in their phone’s operating system. Pre-smartphone, a phone was just a phone, incapable of being overtaken by malware and not really a serious target, since little to no data was stored on the device. Today’s smartphones are, however, more like computers than they are like the first generation of flip phones we all once had.

As users continue to rely more and more on their mobile devices (and less and less on laptops and computers), these smartphones are becoming bigger targets for hackers. It’s a common misconception that antivirus for Android operating systems does more harm than good. It’s true, these programs used to be clunky, battery-sucking nightmares. Today’s mobile antivirus is streamlined. But is it even necessary?

In the most recent Internet Security Report, put together by Symantec, it is reported that there are more than a million apps that are classified as malware available on the market right now. In 2014 alone, forty-six new families of malware just for Android were introduced. Without some kind of antivirus for Android, most users will be completely open to nasty malware.

As hackers are becoming more aggressive, users are becoming more flippant. All smartphone operating systems now have an app where you can store credit card, password, and personal information for easy use for online and in-app purchases. Shopping on mobile devices is becoming more and more popular, which means more and more users are entering their payment information into their mobile phones. This is all information that an aggressive malware app can scrape out of the phone and send back to its designers.

What is malware and why should we fear it? According to that same Symantec report, malware is any program designed to do harm. It covers viruses, Trojans, and worms—all of which can be blocked with the use of an antivirus app. Aside from these commonly known types of malware, there are more and more threats being introduced by malicious programs every year. One of the newest families includes Grayware, which are programs that do not contain viruses but are classified as annoying or harmful by the users. Dialers, adware, and joke programs all fall into this category.

Android Security Suite

Example of Madware in you device.

Another new category is Madware, which involves using aggressive programming to imbed advertising in the photos and calendars on your phone. These programs can also send push notifications to your phone and may even replace an existing ringtone with an advertisement. While not always damaging, both Grayware and Madware have the potential to be used by malicious programmers to scrape data from your phone and are, in and of themselves, annoying. If you’ve experienced either of these two new families of malware, you know that they can make your phone just as unusable as a piece of programming intentionally designed to harm your phone.

How do you identify these types of malware? Look for the following signs on your mobile device:

Send content – These programs will often utilize spam, premium SMS, and black hat SEO techniques to encourage you to send their content to your device.

Adware/Annoyance – Threats like these will use annoying popups and will send unwanted push notifications to your phone in an attempt to get you to click on their link, either for advertising or malicious purposes.

Reconfigure device – Many threats will automatically change your user settings in order to give themselves greater access to your data. Watch out for programs that ask for access to these types of settings.

More traditional threats – There are now downloaders, Trojans, Hack tools, and DDoS utilities made specifically to target you mobile device and the data it contains. These will often trigger a security alert.

Steal information – Any program that steals your data, from your media files to passwords to banking information is a malicious program that you do not want on your device

Track user – Many types of malware will track users’ locations.

Most mobile users walk a thin line. They want to keep their data safe, but they also want to have access to fun apps. Most people are more than willing to allow an app that they really want to have access to their personal information, especially if that app is free. That Symantec report found that most users think they know what they are agreeing to when they download an app, but that few really understand even the most basic app permission policies or how apps behave—more than 50% didn’t realize that apps can track their location in real time.

Android Security Suite

Android Security Suite, advanced anti-malware app for Android devices

It’s important to pay attention to your device, listen to what it is telling you, and to take action when you notice a pattern. It is more important now than ever to have the right antivirus for Android, to protect your device in real time and prevent apps, mobile websites, and files from harming you or your device.