The numbers are out: McAfee‘s report on viruses in the first quarter of the year shows mobile malware, which exploded last year, is showing no signs of stopping. Smartphones, which just recently outnumbered “dumb phones” worldwide are increasingly becoming the targets of the same sorts of viruses and malware that we’ve worried about on our computers for years. McAfee, a large security firm owned by Intel, reports that 28% of all malicious smartphone software has appeared in the first quarter of 2013. The year previous saw a huge spike in which the rest of the 50,000 programs emerged, although some estimates claim there are up to a million mobile viruses at the time of this writing.
The most common form of mobile viruses is the age-old Trojan Horse virus. This virus pretends to be another sort of software and coaxes the user into installing it. After being installed, it spreads throughout the system and locks down many of the phone functions, essentially turning the phone into a zombie under the control of the hacker. The zombie phone will then send out text messages to infect its next targets. For instance in South Korea, a widely-spread virus poses as a coupon app for a coffee shop and then takes control of the user’s phone.
There are a number of security products for smartphones on the market. One such app is AVG’s Antivirus for Android http://www.avg.com/us-en/antivirus-for-android. It will also help you locate your device in the event that it’s lost or stolen. It’s only available for Android, which is also the only system that runs a high risk of infection. However, some research shows that mobile antivirus programs aren’t nearly as effective as their PC counterparts, due to the way antiviruses access the phone’s system http://www.informationweek.com/security/antivirus/does-mobile-antivirus-software-really-pr/240008673.
The best antivirus for iPhones running iOS is Lookout Mobile Security, which is available for free. While there are fewer viruses on iPhones, Lookout also notifies you of connections to unsecured networks and allows you to track your phone if it’s lost.
So how do you tell if you have a piece of this mobile malware? The warning signs are largely the same as on PCs: applications will start to slow down and strange things will start happening. Make sure you’ve installed an anti-virus first, but if it’s gotten past that, you may be out of luck. Call a phone repair company or use a service like Sugar Sync to back up your personal files from your phone and follow your provider’s instructions to reformat and reinstall your Android phone.
For now, the best way to keep your smartphone free of mobile malware relies on vigilance from you. Make sure not to download any apps that you didn’t go looking for. If it comes to you, it’s probably too good to be true! Make sure to only download from authorized sources. And as always, don’t give your passwords to anyone you don’t trust. If it looks sketchy, it almost certainly is! If you think you may have been the victim of mobile malware, call a smartphone repair company that can salvage your data and restore your phone.