If you’re anywhere near as smart as your phone is, you know that cybercrime is an insidious threat to every action you take when you’re using a mobile device. Cyber-criminals never take a day off, and they keep coming up with new and more damaging ways to interfere with your life and your peace of mind.
No doubt you have protection against viruses and other malware on your laptop or desktop, but do you have the best internet security on your iPhone or Android? If you don’t, you’re leaving yourself as open to thieves and malicious mischief-makers as if you left the door to your car or home unlocked. It’s an open invitation to come on in and take what you’ve got.
Just think of all the things you do on your phone: shopping, banking, making travel arrangements, sending and receiving information from everyone you know or do business with. You wouldn’t stop a stranger on the street and give him your passwords, your account numbers, and your mother’s maiden name, would you? So why would you leave yourself as vulnerable as if you did just that?
Maybe you’re not aware of the kinds of malware threats that are out there and that you need to protect yourself from while you’re sitting in that coffee shop and texting all the details of your life. If that’s the case, here’s a refresher:
Spyware is the software that inserts itself to keep track of what you do. It ranges from harmless cookies that speed your experience on legitimate websites to the malicious software created by criminals to steal your most sensitive information.
The prime difference is that while you’re made aware of and usually asked to accept or opt out of cookies when you visit a site, malicious spyware operates without your knowledge to record your keystrokes and thus steal your passwords, codes, banking, and credit details and the rest of your personal data.
Viruses and Worms
Viruses and worms are two of the most common kinds of malware (they’re not synonymous) that attack desktops and laptops, and until recently they weren’t a threat to smartphones. But criminals have been enticed by the explosion of smartphone use, and the danger is growing, particularly when you download an infected app or jailbreak an Apple product to install unauthorized apps.
The major concern, though, is that smartphones can serve as unwitting carriers, transmitting the malware to computers and networks when they’re connected to them through a USB port.
The process can work in reverse, too, with your mobile device becoming Typhoid Mary when it is contaminated by unknowingly receiving malware from a computer and in turn transmits it to another computer.
- Viruses are typically attached to an executable file or word document and commonly spread via email attachment downloads and file sharing. Mobile devices are most likely to contract them via infected apps and visits to infected websites. A virus remains quiet until the infected program is activated, at which time it comes to life and can run and replicate itself.
- Worms don’t require a host program or file. They generally get into your system via a network connection or a downloaded file and then can run wild and self-replicate, with each generation of a worm able to replicate itself and quickly spread through computer networks and the Internet.
A Trojan is a variety of malicious software that, like the Trojan horse of Greek mythology, is disguised as legitimate but does terrible damage once you let it in.
It deceives you into downloading and executing it and can then give criminals access for purposes of spying, deleting, blocking, modifying or copying data, disrupting operations and even taking complete backdoor remote control of entire computer networks. Fortunately, one thing Trojans can’t do is self-replicate.
Among the most devious and damaging Trojans are:
- Trojan-DDoS programs that conduct Distributed Denial of Service attacks by flooding a target address and effectively shutting down business operations;
- Trojan-Downloader programs that can download and install new malware on your computer;
- Rootkit Trojans that give unauthorized users access to the most privileged parts of a server or computer and to restricted areas of its software;
- Trojan-Droppers that prevent malware from being detected, giving themselves and other malware extended time to do their damage;
- Trojan-FakeAV programs that masquerade as antivirus software warning you of a threat when none actually exists and extorting payment from you in exchange for the removal of the non-existent threat.
While the best way to protect yourself is by having security apps on your mobile devices, you should also be careful to download apps only from verified sources as well as disable Wi-Fi access by default and connect only to reputable Wi-Fi hotspots.