Better Business

Robb Hicken: Malware lurks in devices, just as it does in computers

Chief storyteller for the Better Business Bureau serving the Snake River RegionMarch 19, 2014 

Robb Hicken

If you own a mobile device, chances are you're not using all its safety features.

A Pew Research Center survey states nearly half of American adults own smartphones, and about 17 percent of owners use them as a primary means of accessing the Internet.

Through apps and mobile browsers, people store personal information like passwords, bank-account information and credit card numbers in addition to their contacts and other information. All major banks now offer mobile check deposit.

Every app you download or are directed to provides a digital trail for marketers and advertisers. So do ads you click through. This new tracking is of serious concern to maintaining your privacy. The marketing companies actually keep dossiers detailing everything they learn.

The other concern is the plethora of malware targeting your handheld instead of your laptop. A National Cyber Security Alliance survey found that more 25 percent of cellphone users are unaware of common security threats, and more than half do not know enough about mobile phone security to decide whether or not they need it.

A smartphone is no different than a desktop or laptop computer in that it is vulnerable to hackers, malware, spyware and viruses.

The security analysis group Blue Coat's 2014 Mobile Malware Report says one in five clicks on Web ads in February were directed to mobile malware. Malicious ad attacks on smartphones this year are up 400 percent from November 2012. Porn is responsible for 16 percent of all attacks, though it makes up just 1 percent of mobile traffic. Ads are responsible for 20 percent.

"When we look at consumer behavior on PCs versus behavior on mobile devices, a few key distinctions are stark," the report states. "... Social networking continues to decrease as an activity that consumers engage in on their desktop or laptop computers. Instead, that activity has shifted to mobile devices."

Mary Beth Quirk, senior editor at Consumerist, says, "While malware dressed in pornography's clothing used to be the most tempting for smartphone users, it's been overtaken recently by mobile ads, which means that either our big clumsy fingers are accidentally hitting things or we'd rather look at ads than naked body parts."

Scammers use social networks to advertise against phone viruses, and when you hit "OK" on an ad, a fake system warning pops up urging users to download an antivirus app, Quirk says. The villains change your phone's settings, allowing third-party downloads and effectively giving the malware permission to steal your personal information or install software.

To secure your mobile device:

• Lock your phone. If it is lost or stolen, your personal information is at risk.

• Update your operating system. Updates close security loopholes and backdoors that hackers can use.

• Beware of unknown apps and links. Do not download apps or click on ads, email or social media without researching.

• Check your permissions. Check your apps to see what data they access, and revoke permissions.

• Consider mobile security. Many sources offer antivirus or other security apps for your phone.

rhicken@boise.bbb.org, 947-2115

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