Yes, Your Phone Can Get A Computer Virus


If you thought your phone was virus-proof, think again.

Smartphones are essentially portable personal computers. And while their operating systems are in many ways more modern and secure than desktop-computer operating systems, they’re still vulnerable.

How vulnerable? Last year, researchers detected 24,794 threats to mobile phones, according to security-software vendor NQ Mobile.

That’s a staggering 16-fold increase from the 1,649 threats discovered in 2009.

Granted, security-software firms have a vested interest in releasing alarming statistics. But they also have the best frontline experience in dealing with threats. So we spoke to Gavin Kim, NQ Mobile’s chief product officer, to learn more.

What is mobile malware?
Kim defines mobile malware as “any malicious software deployed against a consumer that has adverse effects on the device.” It’s a mobile phone’s version of a computer virus. It can be something as innocuous as a lighthearted prank or something malicious that uses your phone as a platform to take your money.

Malware can be spread via links in shady text messages or emails that prompt you to log in to your email or other service. In reality, your password and other personal details are captured and mined, leaving you severely exposed.

Why target mobile devices?
It’s easy—there are more and more of them in use every day. A growing ecosystem is hugely attractive to malicious coders. Even if a small number of users get tricked into handing over passwords or infecting their devices, malware creators can still make money.

Kim explained that smartphones are used very differently from other devices. We carry our social and financial information in them, and because they can be used to purchase things, they’re “inherently financial instruments” which makes them very attractive to hackers.

How do you protect yourself?
Kim laid out the following points:

  • Be cautious and look at things with a little wariness.
  • Use a security product.
  • Use applications from known publishers.
  • Don’t click on weird links in emails from strangers.

And as far as the great Android vs. iPhone debate goes, Kim says that both are susceptible, just in different ways. Because Android is a more open environment, it’s easier to expose it to malware. Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS, is far more closed and therefore more difficult to expose, but once malware’s in there, it’s a total pain to deal with it.

He also shared an anecdote about a colleague of his, one of the most security-conscious people in the company, who happened to click on a link that downloaded an application that began clobbering him with premium SMS text messages at exorbitant fees. Even if your device is secured, you may get tricked into letting hackers in through the front door.

Awareness is key. Regardless of your knowledge and experience, it’s still quite possible to become a victim.

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