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Are you prepared for a 500% increase in mobile malware?

7 ways to protect your phone

Barrett Dilger

January 16, 2023

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Mobile Malware

Stats for cybersecurity risks consistently show them going up. A leading cybersecurity company released some staggering information that the first few months of last year showed a 500% increase in mobile malware attacks. They also said they expected the numbers to rise throughout the year.

While I “eagerly” await them to release the full-year data to see where we ended up, it really doesn’t matter if the numbers got as high as they expected. 500% is bad enough! 

Mobile Malware is here in force, and we need to take action. The alarming part isn’t the huge threat, but the fact that most people don’t protect their smartphones.

There are steps we take to protect our computers, yet that hasn’t all transferred over to our phones yet. Let’s change that.

Here are 7 ways you can improve the security of your smartphone against mobile malware

  1. Don’t Download Apps From Unknown Sources
  2. Use Mobile Anti-Malware
  3. Don’t Trust Email
  4. Watch for Smishing Scams
  5. Remove / Disable Old Apps
  6. Update Your Device
  7. Use a VPN when on Public Wi-Fi

Don’t Download Apps From Unknown Sources

This one shouldn’t be too hard to do. Compared to computers, most people download their apps from their associated app store. Be it Apple or Google, if it’s in the official store there is less likelihood of it being unsafe because you have the big boys as watchdogs over the apps. That’s not to say something can’t slip by them though. It has, it does, and it will.

So always check who the app developer is and do a quick check online. Reviews can be faked, so look for the history of the company to see if they have been around before and have a reputation. No history doesn’t mean a bad thing, but it should be considered because malware is less likely to be from a long-standing reputable company.

Use Mobile Anti-Malware

You have antivirus on your computer, why don’t you have it on your phone? You probably use it just as much, if not more, these days. To be clear, malware is a catch-all term for malicious applications. A Virus is a specific type of malware that replicates itself by infecting other files and applications, similar to how a biological virus does in a person’s cells.  So all viruses are malware but not all malware are viruses.

You need protection from all malware. Using an anti-malware application on your phone is a great way to protect your device. You don’t want to get infected, because you might not even be able to get rid of it even if you uninstall the app.

Look for a reputable one from a known company. And can I say it? Don’t be cheap. Pay for your app. Mine costs $15 a year. That’s a buck twenty-five a month. Small price to pay to help stay safe. Those freebies? They tend to not be very good, and ironically some malware pose as free tools so you download them and give them full permissions to your phone.

Don’t Trust Email

If you’re like most people, you love to check your mail on your phone. There’s something so…smooth and simple about the process. The thumb scrolling and tapping just makes it less cumbersome.

Which is why a bad agent might try to trick you via email. It’s harder to tell a legitimate email on mobile due to the view and amount of information seen. It’s harder to check the details of the sender or hover over a link to see if it’s legitimate.

If there is any email you are questionable about, just wait and check it on a computer. There you can check the message header and the link destination. Also, any weird formatting issues by a phishing email will stand out more.

Watch for Smishing Scams

Speaking of phishing scams, the amount of smishing scams (SMS phishing) has been increasing exponentially, to the point they have outpaced robocalls. They typically will pose as a boss of your company asking for you to email them information. Another common one is pretending to be a shipping company to try to get you to click a link.

That’s why phones are so good for phishing, you are already distracted and not expecting an attack there. You feel safe.  Always beware of texts from unknown sources and always think through if the message makes sense.

Is your boss really asking you to email company info to a personal Gmail account? Did you even order anything that is being delivered? If so, is there a reason why there would be a problem with the delivery that you would need to click a link?

If you are ever unsure, then just call them.

Remove / Disable Old Apps

Time for some Spring cleaning! I know, I’m guilty of it as well, but sometimes you just get an app and stop using it and it collects digital dust.  The scary part is that a lot of apps haven’t been updated in the past year. Over 2 million apps!

Thankfully Apple instituted a program to remove outdated apps from their store, but that’s more for decluttering on their end, not for security.

Apps need to be updated to remain safe. That statistic shows that a lot of developers don’t maintain their apps very well, or possibly even abandon them. Hackers seek out apps like that to exploit their weaknesses and gain access to any user of that app.

That’s a potential risk to you. If you rarely use that app any longer, then ditch it. If it’s an app you use, check when it was updated last. If it’s been a while, maybe consider switching to another app that stays updated.

Some devices have permission filters applied for old apps. The OS will keep track of your app usage and if you haven’t used it in a while, it automatically revokes the permissions you’ve granted it. That’s a nice feature as well, so make sure you have it enabled if your device supports it. It’s also a good reminder that anything on that list you should consider removing completely.

Update Your Device

Oh, those pesky developers not updating their applications! Wait, when was the last time you made sure your phone was updated? Apple and Google update their devices frequently for security and stability. Is your phone set to install them automatically?  (Please say yes)

Check that and make sure your phone is indeed installing updates – you should probably know this already if you’ve ever been inconvenienced by it updating at the wrong time. 

Does your phone still get updates? Check with your phone manufacturer to be sure.

If your phone is over 5 years old it almost certainly is not being updated.

As a general summary, here is how long the main manufacturers support their devices:

Apple – 7 years

Samsung – 4 years OS / 5 for security

Google – 3 years OS / 5 for security

If your phone is from a smaller manufacturer, then the support will be much less. Expect it to be 3 years. Again, check with your specific phone to be sure.

If your phone is not in the update window or drawing close to the end then you should upgrade your phone to remain secure.

Use a VPN when on Public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi is dangerous. I don’t think the average person really understands how much risk they take by connecting to a public network. Hackers can monitor public wi-fi traffic sent between users (you) and the internet servers. They can capture your data and information, and even inject malware code into your device. That’s just not something you ever want to be exposed to.

There are definitely reasons to use public wi-fi though, namely not using your phone’s data plan, getting better speed, or better reception. If you connect to one of these networks, then at least do it safely. Use a VPN.

A VPN will route your entire connection through a secure server. This way nobody will be able to see your data or communicate with your device.  Like your anti-malware app, a VPN app is an essential part of keeping your device safe.

Wrap up

There are a lot of threats out there. That doesn’t mean you’re helpless though. Prepping yourself to be aware of these attacks and keeping your device safe with apps and updates will help keep you safe. Don’t wait until you get hit before you decide to take action.