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Smartphones and tablets have become indispensable parts of our lives. Beyond letting us communicate with friends and family, they store our private correspondence, allow us to do banking on the run, and often contain sensitive content about our businesses. Which is why protecting them is more important than ever.
Malware, or malicious software, used to be something you only had to worry about for your laptop or desktop computer, but as phones have got smarter, so have the criminals looking to compromise our digital lives for profit.
Even though most people use antivirus software on their laptop or desktop computers, very few take the same precautions with their mobile phones or tablets. It's pretty strange when you consider phones and tablets are really just pocket-sized computers themselves.
More about malware
So, what sort of malware is out there, and how does it work? Two of the most common varieties are keyloggers and ransomware. The former literally logs or records everything you type on your phone or tablet, which can include usernames and passwords, especially for sensitive services like mobile banking apps that require you to type in your password every time you use them.
Of course, somewhat perversely, banking apps often require your password each time as a security measure. It’s a sensible move in theory, but if your device has been compromised with a keylogger, it can make accessing your bank accounts a cinch, which is also why you should ensure your bank sends you notifications via SMS, email or both when there’s activity on your accounts.
Ransomware, meanwhile, encrypts or otherwise locks the content on a device with the people behind the ransomware then demanding a fee (the ‘ransom’) – usually via a pop-up message on your device with payment details and a deadline – in order to unlock it.
Unfortunately, however, once a device has been infected with ransomware the content on it is usually gone for good, which is just one of the reasons you shouldn’t agree to pay, and great incentive to make sure you regularly back up the important data on your device.
How do you get malware on your device? The most common way is by installing an app. It’s why Android handsets warn you about installing apps from ‘unknown sources’ if you download something outside one of the legitimate app stores, such as Google Play or Samsung Galaxy Apps. And that’s why Apple doesn’t let you instal apps from anywhere other than the Apple App Store.
A good rule of thumb is to be wary of any URLs in SMS or MMS messages, or emails, even if they come from trusted sources. If you get a strange-looking link from a friend or family member, send them a separate message to ask what it is and if they sent it intentionally before opening it. When in doubt, if it looks fishy, it probably is.
Also, don’t instal apps directly from websites unless you’re sure they’re legitimate, and be similarly sceptical of unexpected spreadsheets or documents you receive via messages – they could also contain malicious software.
Secure your device
The best thing to do is to treat your mobile device the same way you would a computer by installing an antivirus app from a reputable source such as Norton by Symantec.
By partnering with Vodacom, Norton by Symantec has introduced a simple, easy-to-use solution at a nominal monthly fee – starting at just R19 per month for one device. Whether it’s your personal or a business device, it’s a very small price to pay for peace of mind.
For good measure, be sure to put a passcode, password or security pattern on your device, along with any tracking or remote lockdown service your handset manufacturer or mobile operating system offers (like ‘Find my iPhone’ for Apple devices and ‘Android Device Manager’ for Android ones). Because, if your phone is stolen and there isn’t a password, the thief will have an even easier time of getting at your data than malware would.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Mobile devices enable us to connect with one another and share the details of our lives more easily than ever before, and the companies that make them are constantly combating malware makers to ensure we have the best possible experience. But there’s only so much these companies can do to protect us against foolish behaviour. As with most things in life, where malware is concerned, prevention really is better than cure.