Considering how integral smartphones now are to everyday life, it’s scary to think how much damage can be done by malware – and sometimes all it takes is one lapse in judgment to become infected. Keep reading to find out what these infections could do to you, how to detect them, and how to shield yourself from them.
The Worst Smartphone Malware Attacks
Smartphone malware infections might seem like a recent concern, but the first attack goes back nearly a full decade. How bad can malware be?
The first notable attack was on Symbian OS, the world’s most popular smartphone operating system prior to Android’s rise to fame in 2010. The Cabir worm was a proof-of-concept virus in 2004 that could spread to other phones through Bluetooth. The constant scan for Bluetooth devices reduced battery life, but otherwise it was harmless.
Then, in 2005, Symbian phones were hit by the Commwarrior virus. This too was relatively harmless, but it proved that viruses could spread through MMS (text messages with images, videos, or sounds). Prior to this, mobile attacks were localized due to the limited range of Bluetooth. With Commwarrior, distance was no longer a limit.
As Android exploded in popularity, it became the target of malware developers. The Gingermaster Trojan exploited a security hole in the Gingerbread version of Android, allowing the virus to elevate itself to superuser permissions. With unfettered access, Gingermaster gathered phone data and sent it off to a remote address for collection.
This particular virus is a good example of why Android app permissions are important and the potential dangers of rooting Android.
And if you thought iOS was immune to viruses, think again. Although Apple tries to maximize app security by exercising strict control over the App Store, some things can slip through.
The Ikee worm exploited a vulnerability in jailbroken devices and spread using the SSH protocol. Fortunately, it was harmless and only replaced the wallpaper with a photo of Rick Astley. However, it did prove that iOS wasn’t as virus-proof as some defenders had claimed.
Symptoms of Smartphone Malware Infection
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of malware is its stealthy and deceptive nature. For as long as you remain in the dark, malware can sit back and do its thing. It’s only when you know you’re infected that you can take the proper steps towards removing the threat. So, how can you tell if your phone has been infected by malware?
Decreased battery life is a huge signal that should always raise a red flag. It won’t always mean an infection – it could be as simple as a buggy app that’s hogging a lot of CPU – but it should make you suspicious. Malware is always trying to collect information, always tapping into data streams, and always attempting to spread, and all of those processes make your phone work overtime.
Again, battery drain is not always a sign of something malicious. If you’re having issues with it, check out these tips for extending Android battery life.
Decreased performance. In the same vein as the battery life sign above, malware tends to slow down your phone’s speed. You only have so much processing power. When malware is constantly running in the background, it leaves even fewer resources for the rest of your apps. In most cases, you should notice the performance hit.
Interrupted calls and apps. Malware is invasive and it often likes to interfere with running processes in order to snoop and pull information to which it might not normally have access. The result is that calls might unexpectedly drop (especially when malware tries to reroute them) and apps might unexpectedly crash. If these problems start occurring out of the blue, you may be infected.
There are some other yellow flags that could raise suspicions, but these are major warnings that you shouldn’t ignore.
Mobile Security With Safe Habits
If you suspect malware on your phone, there are a few antivirus tools you could use to diagnose and remove the infections. It may seem unnecessary but not using antivirus app is one of the most common smartphone security mistakes. Better to be safe than sorry.
Some recommended apps include:
- 360 Security (Free, Android & iOS): This wonderful app not only scans for actual infections but also for vulnerabilities in your system. It’s also equipped with automatic protection to ease your mind. On top of malware defense, 360 Security is even useful for anti-theft protection, power saving, and blocking unwanted calls and texts.
- Avira Mobile Security (Free, Android & iOS): Avira has an on-demand and automatic app scanner that negates most mobile threats. It can also track your phone’s location, lock it down remotely, and detect hacked emails and notify your contacts that your email has been comprised. It’s light on the battery, too, so it’s a good choice if you’re worried about resource consumption.
- avast! Mobile Security (Free, Android): avast! is an acclaimed antivirus app that deserves its reputation. It can scan and remove malware, but like the two apps above, it has a few extra bells and whistles on top of that: anti-theft measures, network meter, app locks, firewall, and more. The ability to schedule automatic periodic scans makes this one the most convenient option.
Other tips that will maximize your mobile safety:
- Reputable downloads only. Being reckless with downloads is essentially the same as leaving the door open and inviting every stranger into your home. Not every shady download will harm you, but eventually one will. That’s not a risk worth taking. Only download apps that have gained a good reputation.
- Learn the risks of rooting and jailbreaking. With our Android rooting guide andiOS jailbreak guide, it’s never been easier to unlock the full potential of your phone. However, you should be aware of the risks and security issues that accompany such freedom.
- Scan for issues regularly. There are times when an infection doesn’t show any obvious signs. There are few feelings worse than running a malware scan for the first time in six months only to realize that you’ve been compromised for most of that period. Once every week is enough for most users.
Has your phone ever been infected by a virus? Tell us about it. How bad was it? How did you get rid of it? What steps do you take now to stay safe? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!