How to Protect Your Smartphone from Malware
Last week Google flipped its Remote Kill switch to zap 58 malicious Android apps that had been downloaded onto 260,000 Android phones. Google was able to eliminate the apps without phone owners' assistance.
Google determined that the apps stole a phone’s unique identification number and could use that information to access other personal data. The company removed the malicious applications from Android Market, suspended the associated developer accounts, and contacted law enforcement about the attack.
Apple, RIM and Microsoft have similar remote kill capabilities for devices running their respective operating systems.
But a kill switch is not enough for smartphone users: the cow is out of the barn once malicious apps have been downloaded and penetrate the defenses of the operating system. Google discovered a vulnerability in older versions of the Android operating system ― 2.2.1 or older ― and in this case, that includes around 99 percent of the Android phones currently in use.
Like PC, like phone
Hackers routinely exploit older versions of software. Just last week Microsoft launched a site, The Internet Explorer Countdown, urging the millions who are stubbornly clinging to Internet Explorer 6 to upgrade to IE8, an updated version of the popular browser that is far more secure than its predecessors.
Whether it's browser software, application software or an operating system on your computer or mobile phone, you should have the most recent version available to provide the best protection.
How to update your mobile OS
Smartphone users may be less familiar with process to update their phone’s operating system, which is complicated by policy differences between cell phone providers, mobile operating system makers and phone manufacturers.
The free iOS 4.3 update for iPhones, iPads and iPods was released last week and can be downloaded in iTunes. It includes new features such as personal Wi-Fi hotspot, iTunes home sharing, and new camera effects. No word on security features at the time of this writing, but the 3.1.3 update released on Feb. 2 patched five security vulnerabilities.
The Android ecosystem is more complicated because of the number of devices by different manufacturers that have become available since the launch of the first Android phone, the HTC Dream, in October 2008. Android is the leading mobile platform in the U.S. with a 31 percent market share as of January 2011, according to comScore. RIM ranked second with 30 percent market share, followed by Apple with 25 percent and Microsoft at eight percent. Like computers, the more popular platforms attract more cybercriminals who want the biggest bang for their hacking dollar.
Android 2.3 or Gingerbread is the most recent version of the operating system. However, just because a phone is new to the market doesn’t mean it has the latest OS. For instance, Samsung released its Nexus S in December 2010 with Android 2.3, but Motorola’s Atrix 4G was released just last month and runs Android 2.2 (Froyo). Updates are issued at the carrier’s discretion and depend on whether or not the phone is compatible with the upgrade, something that depends on the manufacturer.
To check on the version currently running on your phone, go into your phone’s settings and select “About Phone”. Then select “System updates” to see if an update is available. Owners may also receive update notifications from their service providers.
Smartphones running other operating systems can be checked in the same way. When an update is available, download it. Keeping systems and software up to date is one of the best ways to protect Internet-connected devices.
Further, each operating system has its own app marketplace: App Store in iTunes for iPhone, Android Market for Android phones, BlackBerry App World and Windows Marketplace for Windows phones. While the review and vetting process varies from one store to the next, no company has been immune from malware.
It's best to wait a month or two before downloading an app that's new to the community. After several months have passed, it's likely a problem would have been reported and the app removed. You're looking to make sure the app has been satisfactorily used by a large number of users over a relatively long time.
Mobile antivirus solutions
Apple has not approved any iPhone antivirus solutions, but security analysts have warned that even approved iPhone apps could harbor malicious software. As a basic precaution, users should regularly clean the browser's recent searches and the keyboard cache in “Settings”.
Most PC security software manufacturers also offer versions for smartphones, so you might start with the company you already use for computer protection.
Alternately, you can look in the official app store serving your device. For instance, in Android Market, Lookout Mobile Security is the most frequently downloaded, rated and reviewed security app in the store. It includes malware protection, “find my phone”, backup and restore. The app is free and compatible with Android phones running 1.5 (Cupcake) or later. Best 6 Smartphones in 2011
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