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Your smartphone is a powerful computing device — with access to much of your most sensitive private information. Professional criminals are willing and able to invest heavily to steal that data from you.
Several trends have converged to raise cybersecurity threat levels. When computer viruses were first written, they were more difficult to distribute and spread more slowly. Internet connections were not ever-present, processors were relatively slow and virus creation wasn’t as common.
Today, malware is big business. A vibrant dark economy trades cyber tools and personal information and offers programmers for hire. Evidence suggests that over 350,000 new pieces of malware are generated every day, and mobile devices are an increasingly rich target.
Can a smartphone get a virus?
Like desktops and laptops, smartphones are susceptible to viruses, though many users have no idea.
The code currently plaguing smartphones and tablets has a lot more design variety than earlier viruses. In general, this malicious code is known as malware. AV-TEST breaks the problem into two categories: malicious programs (malware) and potentially unwanted applications (PUA). But for most users, this distinction is not as important as these programs’ aims.
Mobile malware and the paths to infection are diverse, but here are a few examples:
- Malware can be embedded in a website or a malicious Wi-Fi network that leaves behind code to redirect links to illicit sites or pretends to be a resource it’s not. Its aim is to convince you to enter your credentials, allowing cybercriminals to steal your information.
- Adware can be embedded in apps that grab data from other parts of your phone. This information can lure you into trusting future emails or other communications. This false software is very hard to distinguish from legitimate software.
- Application software can be added to your device through websites or other apps that run in the background, either stealing your information or simply using your computer power and network connection to process information, like mining cryptocurrencies or executing attacks on other web resources.
- Downloading apps from unofficial sites can result in your apps being replaced by copycat apps carrying fraudulent ad-clicking software.
Companies are spending significantly on training users to refrain from clicking on unknown links in emails or opening attachments. But even if users are making better choices on their PCs, they’re still more likely to initiate the exploit by errantly tapping on their smartphone, according to Verizon’s “2019 Data Breach Investigations Report.”
The beginner's guide to mobile device management
One of the best things about smart devices is that they can help you make better decisions because they know your current circumstances. They show directions based on your current location and suggest products and services based on a range of sensors and history. Unfortunately, users rarely question those pop-ups asking to grant permissions to their address book or share location information with an app.
What antivirus software is best?
You should start with a layered approach to protecting your hardware, software and systems and find solutions that are smarter than the criminals, according to CSO Online. Take a more serious approach to password management. Using sticky notes and a single password for everything can make you a target. It also means that old antivirus systems no longer serve their purpose.
When viruses were written less frequently and designed less diabolically, it was possible to stay protected by keeping your virus definitions and software up to date. But it can take days between the release of new malware and the time it takes to detect it, catalog it, add it to the antivirus protection and update your device. The WannaCry virus was distributed to over 100,000 devices within minutes, according to The Guardian. Traditional antivirus didn’t protect anyone from WannaCry.
You now need something that can protect you from code that lands on your device, without needing to update your device first. Modern antivirus doesn’t rely on matching code on the device to a list of bad code, sometimes referred to as a blocklist. Today’s protection uses machine learning (ML) to develop artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms that recognize malicious code, and then quarantine it before it runs. Computers running an AI-based antivirus program were not infected or impacted in any way by WannaCry. Some reports suggest that current AI definitions of malware could protect computers and smartphones from malware that hasn’t even been written yet.
That means that if you loaded an AI-based antivirus program onto your device and didn’t initiate any updates for a year, the program would still catch a threat before it could cause any damage.
So, do I really need antivirus on my Android?
Do you want to be safe or sorry? The more defenses and locked doors that criminals have to overcome, the better. The consequences of not having this inexpensive and unobtrusive line of defense can be disastrous for both individuals and small businesses.
Google continues to add to their defenses, which are built into the Google Play Store. But with 2.7 million apps and counting, even a very small percentage of misses is enough to spell disaster for someone.
Samsung Knox provides another layer of protection, both for separating work and personal data and for protecting the operating system from manipulation. Combined with a modern antivirus solution, this can go a long way toward limiting the impact of expanding malware threats.