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February 08, 2019

Phone Security 101: How to Protect Against Threats

virus alert on smartphone

Cybercriminals have spent a great deal of time trying to hack into computers, websites, and emails, and lately they’ve set their sights on your smartphone.

For instance, a 2016 software bug targeting Android phones made it easy for attackers with an Internet connection to insert malicious code into communications that prompted users to respond with personal information. In 2018, the Israeli cyber intelligence firm NSO Group took advantage of weak spots in one of iPhone’s operating systems to read text messages and emails, collect passwords, and track the whereabouts of users.

Phone protection from hackers is essential and should not be neglected. Here are some ways to determine whether your phone has a virus or software bug and tips to increase your phone’s security to reduce the odds you’ll be attacked.

Signs your phone may have a virus

Smartphones are vulnerable to malicious software, usually called “malware.” It can find its way to your device when you download an app or open an attachment from an email. Typically, hackers use this kind of software to infiltrate your phone, steal private information, such as passwords and account numbers, and secretly send them to third parties.

So, how do you know if your phone has malware? Experts suggest being on the lookout for these suspicious symptoms:

  • Data and battery drain. Malware runs in the background to complete operations and communicate with the Internet, and it needs energy and access to a network to do that. If your phone is suddenly eating up more data than normal or your battery is quickly losing its juice, you may have a bug.
  • Unexplained charges. Because the malware may be accessing the Internet, using data, or sending premium text messages, your phone bill might be noticeably higher. Compare it to last month’s bill to determine where the additional charges are coming from.
  • App mayhem. If you see apps on your phone that you don’t recognize or if apps you trust begin crashing, pay attention. Malware may install apps behind your back and interfere with a phone’s normal operations, resulting in wonky behavior.
  • Surge in pop-up ads. If you start seeing frequent pop-up ads that insist you click on a link, you may have inadvertently installed adware on your phone. Never click on any unknown or suspicious links—you could end up downloading a virus or bug.

Cures for common phone bugs

Mobile malware is on the rise. Between the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2018, almost 1.32 million malicious software packages have been identified by experts. Common sense and some simple precautions can help prevent malware from attacking your phone. Here’s what to do:

  • Pay attention to your apps. A majority of malware comes from apps that have been downloaded from unsecure websites or third-party sources. These apps may offer a fun game, discount coupons, or great music, but they may also secretly include malware. Only purchase apps from trusted sources, such as Google Play and Apple’s App Store. Regularly update your apps and uninstall any that you’re not using.
  • Don’t click on ad links. Ignore pop-up ads that entice you with links to special offers, free stuff, or deals that are too good to be true — you may end up downloading malware onto your phone.
  • Turn off the Internet and WiFi. This is a good step to take if you haven’t yet confirmed that you have malware on your phone. If your phone doesn’t have access to the Internet, any malicious software that might be present won’t be able communicate with the network. Once you’ve identified and dealt with the virus, you can log back into your wireless network.
  • Clear your cache. Malware tends to clutter your phone’s memory. Once you’ve determined the source of the problem or deleted any questionable apps, clear your phone’s cache. For iPhones, follow these instructions and for Android phones, click here.
  • Install anti-virus software. One of the best things you can do to stop malware is to install a security app. Many of these apps automatically scan your phone for problems, actively block you from accessing questionable Web pages, and prevent malicious software or files from being downloaded.

These days, it can be hard to know if you’re doing enough to protect your phone from hackers. Learning to recognize the symptoms of an attack and understanding how to deal with them can help prevent any problems from reoccurring in the future.