By now just about everyone with a PC or laptop uses an antivirus program or some other security system to protect their computer from viruses, malware, and other malicious attacks. But what about protecting smartphones and PDAs? With more and more people sending e-mail and transferring data over their phones, it would seem that installing mobile virus protection would be a no-brainer. So why isn’t it standard protocol? Here’s what the experts say and how to decide if your phone needs antivirus protection. (Hint: If you constantly use mobile e-mail or a mobile Web browser, you need to protect yourself — now.)
Mobile Virus Threats Are Real
According to a recent study from Northeastern University, more than 420 smartphone viruses have been identified since 2004. These threats have ranged in seriousness from relatively harmless (e.g., Duts, the first Windows Mobile virus, which simply asked permission to be spread) to potentially devastating (e.g., Brador, a backdoor virus that gives hackers access to files before deleting them). What’s scary, says the authors of the study, is that the newer mobile viruses have reached the same state of sophistication it took computer viruses nearly two decades to arrive at.
This begs the obvious question: With so many viruses out there, why doesn’t anyone take them seriously? Year after year security experts such as F-Secure, Gartner, and McAfee predict that a massive attack will occur within the next two years, yet the attack never happens. Another simple answer is that until this widespread attack occurs, no one will take viruses seriously because they believe they could never happen to them.
So how is it possible that 420 viruses have been identified but most of us have never encountered one? The main reason is that there is no standard operating system for mobile devices, so viruses have a hard time spreading. With so many OS options out there, it just isn’t worth it to hackers. These criminals want to cause as much damage as possible, and right now smartphones are unattractive targets. However, once a particular OS increases in market share, viruses will pose a serious threat. The latest market share data shows this threat is closer for some devices than others. As of this May, Symbian OSes had 52 percent of the smartphone market, Nokia OSes had 41.2 percent, and iPhone OSes had 8 percent according to AdMob, a mobile advertising platform provider.
How To Protect Yourself
If you know how to protect your PC from viruses, then you know how to protect your mobile device. Many of the same rules apply.
- Only download software from a trusted source. Many viruses and malware piggyback on downloads. Mosquito, a virus that causes people to send text messages without their knowledge, arrived in 2004 as part of a downloadable game.
- Don’t open files or messages from people you don’t know. One of the easiest ways for viruses to spread is through e-mail attachments and SMS text messages.
- Use passwords for signing in online and change them frequently. All it takes is one visit to a malicious Web site and a hacker can gain access to your phone.
- Turn your Bluetooth and Wi-Fi off until you need them. While handy, these services don’t need to be turned on until you need them. You could unknowingly be transmitting content and information to strangers at any time.
- Back up your mobile device’s files frequently. You don’t want to be empty-handed if a virus wipes you out. Take time to back up your address book and other important files once a week.
- Choose an antivirus program that provides automatic updates and real-time virus scanning. New threats are created every day, so antivirus vendors are constantly updating their products to block these threats. Automatic updates ensure that you’ll always have the latest protection and real-time scans mean every attachment you receive will be examined before you open it.
Finally, choose an antivirus program that supports your particular OS. The following are some of the most popular mobile antivirus vendors:
avast! PDA Edition: Supports Palm OS and Windows Mobile; $19.95 a year.
F-Secure Mobile Security: Supports Symbian and Windows Mobile; $39.95 a year.
Kaspersky Mobile Security: Supports Symbian and Windows Mobile; $29.95 a year.
SMobile Security Shield, Parental Control Edition: Supports BlackBerry RIM, Google Android, Symbian, and Windows Mobile; $29.99 a year.
Note: Currently there is no antivirus software available for the iPhone. Several companies, including McAfee and Symantec, are in the process of developing security software.