Hey Guys, I recently went to recontract my phone with Optus and during the process was asked if I wanted to add 'Mobile Security' to my account. The girl said that it protects the phone from viruses and can remotely wipe the phone if it's lost. For $5 per month I politely declined, but it did have me thinking: is this something I actually need? How common are viruses on phones? Thanks, Phone Health Freak
Malware picture from Shutterstock
Mobile viruses are an increasingly prevalent issue, especially on Android devices. The open nature of the Android platform means security issues are inevitable, though even closed ecosystems such as iOS are not entirely immune, especially when it comes to apps accessing contact information (indeed, many argue that malware is just as prevalent on iPhones).
Around half of all Android malware are “multi-functional trojans”, which typically try and steal contact information, but also can download additional modules which can perform other dangerous tasks. SMS trojans, which automatically send SMS messages to premium-rate numbers, and “backdoor” trojans, which seize overall control of the device and are used to build botnets, are also significant threats.
That said, you can buy affordable software and access remote wiping without paying a monthly fee for the privilege — some devices even come with these functions built in free of charge.
Optus' Mobile Security package seems to be aimed more at businesses that require uniform security across a fleet of devices. Indeed, one of its chief selling points is "protect your credibility" which isn't really of much use to a consumer. (For the record, the monthly charge also includes access to technical support and remote administrative privileges.)
When it comes to malicious Android apps, the important thing to remember is to always read carefully through the permissions before you download an application — if the app needs to read your phone state, create network sockets or modify global system settings for no logical reason there's probably something dodgy going on. In other words, it pays to get out of the habit of skipping through the permissions screen when installing.
Apple does not make this information available to its customers but there are still ways to monitor app permissions, such as BitDefender's web app Clueful. This is a security tool that analyses the apps installed on your phone, including what data they share, whether they use excessive battery life and how they store data. Its chief purpose is to review the level of privacy each app affords the user (an Android version is also available).
Otherwise, the best protection against mobile malware is common sense — don't browse dodgy websites, only open trusted email attachments and think long and hard before downloading anything you stumble across online.
See also: Check Company Phone Bills For Evidence Of Malicious Mobile Apps | How Drive-By Malware Works On Android | Are All Android Phones Vulnerable To A New Malware Attack? | I'm Bitdefender Security Watchdog Bogdan Botezatu And This Is How I Work
Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our contact form.