How to avoid mobile malware

Malware may not be as big a concern for mobile devices as it is for PCs, but as the number of smartphones increases, and the amount of sensitive information stored on them also grows, cyber criminals will view the mobile ecosystem as an increasingly lucrative area to exploit.

Malware has the potential not only to ruin the user’s experience, but also cause major issues surrounding fraud and identity theft.

Read more: Should you use antivirus protection on your Android device?

The first step to experiencing a safer mobile landscape is to treat it with the same level of vigilance as you would your PC. However, there are also a few mobile specific tips that can help prevent your mobile device becoming riddled with malware.

Trusted sources

Google and Apple implement strict security procedures for their official app stores, but when users go looking outside of these, to third-party sources, things get a lot more risky.

While third-party stores may offer cheaper versions of software or apps that are simply unavailable via official channels, they can also contain viruses and other forms of malicious content. For example, anti-virus researchers McAfee found that approximately 79 per cent of Flappy Bird clones found in third-party stores contained some form of malware.

To be on the safe-side, users should only download software from trusted sources, which means Google Play for Android devices and the App Store for Apple handsets. It is also worth noting that any websites you visit while using your mobile web browser can also attempt to install malware onto your device, so make sure you only visit trust-worthy web addresses too.

Permissions

Mobile operating systems have enough built-in security protocols in place that in order for any malware strain to be effective, it may need the user to first give it permission to do its dirty work.

Before blindly allowing an app to access all kinds of user data, think about whether or not the software actually needs to access this information in order to function properly. If you think that the app is attempting to access too much data, don’t grant it permission and look elsewhere for a less-invasive piece of software.

Security software

You wouldn’t use your laptop or desktop PC without any protection, but many users take a surprisingly lax approach with their mobile devices.

Despite the wealth of sensitive information available on smartphones today, an estimated 96 per cent do not come with pre-installed security software. However, there are plenty of anti-virus packages available including ones by security heavyweights like Avast and Kaspersky. With many of these programs downloadable free-of-charge, there’s no reason to continue going unprotected.

Check your apps

As well as showing caution before downloading new software, it is also important to check the apps already present on your device. Users should make sure that apps are fully updated to ensure that attackers cannot exploit vulnerabilities that have since been patched by the developer.

Checking which apps are running, particularly if you are noticing decreased battery performance, is another effective way of checking if malware is already present on your smartphone. If you notice an app is running at all times, or more often than it should, combined with an increase in data use, it is likely to be infected with malware.

Check app reviews

Often one of the best ways to prevent malicious downloads is to carefully check app reviews, as other users are likely to have highlighted any potential issues.

Just as you would be unlikely to buy a physical product or see a movie without first checking some consumer reviews, smartphone owners should take the same approach before committing to a download.

Read more: Safer Internet Day 2015: How to protect yourself online

While sticking to official app stores is likely to keep most malicious downloads at bay, following the rest of the tips above will add an extra layer of protection that may mean the difference between a good and bad mobile experience.