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Smartphone Malware 101: Best Practices

Android smartphones have now become capable of performing tasks that only a computer could be assigned with, up until a few years ago. While there are still a few advanced tasks left for PCs to handle, today’s mobile devices can accomplish pretty much the majority of the same things. With such advancement, however, comes great exposure to viruses and malwares – malicious software that is used by other people illegally in order to gain access to your personal data, including passwords, bank accounts and even that picture that you’re so embarrassed of but constantly keep forgetting to delete.

Unlike locating viruses on computers, smartphones can give you a much harder time because most of the alerts we receive are just pop-up ads that appear when we’re browsing the web. So how can one diagnose one’s device properly and ensure the correct and timely protection of their phone? Let’s dive head-first into the mechanics of how viruses and malwares work and how to deal with those situations. Be warned: this article refers only to Android devices. iPhones and phones that operate based on different systems, do not necessarily follow the same rules and mechanisms.

What is a virus/malware?

Simply put, a virus is a program that is installed on a device without the user’s permission and uses some of its features or accesses data without asking for consent. As a result, the virus could cause your phone to exhibit unexplained behaviour such playing music on its own or deleting apps without your permission. It could also give the attacker access to all of your personal information. Text messages, phone calls and contacts, emails, noted, photos etc. In some cases people who control the said malware lock the phone preventing the user from accessing it, and then ask for money in order to remove the lock – those type of programs are also known as ‘ransomware’.

How does a virus get on an Android smartphone?

Again, the following applies only to devices running with Google’s Android operating system. Things are not the same with Apple’s iPhones that operate with iOS. On an Android device, a virus can be installed with various ways depending on the system’s version. Older versions tend to be more vulnerable to safety issues. That’s not by nature of course. Attackers and malware developers evolve their programs day by day. Hence, newer Android versions are being developed in order to provide protection for the newer and more evolved viruses. In other words, it’s a case of proper timing.

In most cases, malicious software is installed on the background along with regular apps that a user may download. However, you can also get a virus installed on your phone just by surfing the web and visiting unsafe websites. Android versions 6.0 (Marshmallow), 7.0 (Nougat) and 8.0 (Oreo) have more security measures in place, to minimize the risk of getting a virus from either way. That’s partly the reason you have to give all those permissions to apps that you want to install.

So, heads up. An app that manages your contacts has not reason to ask for permission to access the camera or your location, for instance. Always be wary of suspicious permission requests.

How to stay protected

Making sure you have the latest version of Android installed on your phone, is a pretty good starting point. That’s why smartphone makers strive to close deals with Google that will allow them to get all the latest updates as soon as possible. Providing a secure device is a great selling point.

In addition, download applications only from trusted sources that you know. We can’t think of any other place that you’d find an app that’s not already on the app store. Most people never use any other source. If you do however, make sure that you research a bit first to see what that fuss is about.

The next precaution measure is more for experienced users. Never download cracked apk files from torrents or non-trusted sites. If you’re concerned that you might do that by accident – it happens more than you would’ve guessed – then consider turning off the option that allows files and apps from unknown sources to be installed on your phone. That includes pretty much every source except google play. For most devices it’s off as a default option. But if you find it on and you want to disable the installation permission from unknown sources, check your version and then follow the right steps on pcmobitech’s guide.

Another way to stay protected is to obviously get an antivirus. Although such a solution seems to be getting all the burden off your shoulders, it does take up excessive amounts of space, and resources including RAM and CPU. And although we’re at a point where one can get a handset with plenty of RAM a decent CPU that can handle workloads, it still feels like an unnecessary app for anyone who stays on the safe side. Still, if you’re the type of user who likes to wonder around the web and in weird sites, then you should consider the trade-off.

Some of the top most trustworthy antivirus solutions for smartphones are AVG, MalwareBytes and Kasperky. All three can be downloaded from the App Store.

How to remove a virus

The trouble of removing a virus depends on your phone’s Android version. There 3 ways to remove it.

1. Antivirus/Antimalware:

By using a good antivirus, you can scan your device, locate the malicious software and remove it. But be careful. There’s a good change that the antivirus will simply limit the virus’ activity rather than remove it entirely. If that’s the case, you can find out by scanning a second time right after the removal was complete. If the same virus pops up again in the results, move on to the next step

2. Factory Reset:

The Factory Reset will basically erase all the data in your phone including while all settings will go back to default. Apart from trying to remove a virus, you may also want to do a factory reset if your planning on giving your phone away and want to erase your stuff first, or if you just feel like you’ve overloaded it. Here’s the catch though. Under normal circumstances, it would be advisable to backup your data (things like contacts, notes, photos, etc), preferably in the cloud, so you can retrieve it afterwards. However, a backup could also keep the virus on the cloud, meaning that you would restore the problem back on your phone. So, should you perform a factory reset in the event of a malicious software, we advise you to set up the device as new. With that being said, check out Android Central’s guide on How to factory reset an Android phone either from settings or via recovery mode.

3. Update the software version:

As mentioned above, a newer version can protect you from newer and more advanced threats. To update your device you can either plug it into your computer with a USB cable in order to get the new firmware, or connect your device to a WiFi network and download the software OTA (over the air). The main difference between the two alternatives is that for the OTA update, you’ll need to have enough storage left for the update to download, whereas if you connect it to your computer, the software will download on the computer and then install straight on the phone. Also, the more tech minded users may opt to use a computer because that will allow them to get all of the phone’s data on the computer and examine them more carefully to find out exactly where the virus is, thus being able to restore all the healthy files afterwards. It’s important to note that no matter the way you do it, you need to make sure you have enough time at your disposal. Updating times vary, depending on a number of factors, such as internet connection speed, signal interference and the situation of the device or the computer. So, starting an update a few minutes before you leave the house isn’t going to get you anywhere.

When you can tell you’ve got a virus/malware

As a rule of the thumb, android phones that have been infected, present several yet standard symptoms. For instance, ads pop up out of nowhere, even if you’re not even browsing the web or using any apps at the time. Apps could also launch or close seemingly on their own will, while others could be unresponsive or sluggish and it doesn’t appear to be because of the phone’s general performance or its RAM.

In various reports, users state that features such as Airplane Mode or the WiFi are enabled, or the SIM’s internet data is being consumed without the user performing any tasks that would require an internet connection.

There are also several Chinese brands that people buy on Chinese online marketplaces, which have viruses installed on their firmware. It’s worth mentioning for the record that Lenovo is the current holder of some sort of a record in similar reports.

Although the behaviors described above could indicate a virus/malware on your device, it’s not definite. For instance, Apple had an issue with iPhone models this year, that spawned a public outcry. Although the issue derived from the batteries, it affected the performance of the phones, resulting in slow and sluggish or even unresponsive apps and taps, while some users also reported that the device would make and end calls whenever it felt like it.

So, keep in mind that you may need to double-check if you notice suspicious behavior Other than that, most other cases are just spam; ads that tell you you’ve a number of viruses that were detected on your phone and you need to tap somewhere to fix the issue. Those ads appear 9 out of 10 times on a browser like chrome or explorer, especially when you find yourself in weird sites. If that’s the case, you can simply close your browser, clear the app’s cache through the settings and if the issue insists, simply restart the device.

Now you know all about what a virus/malware is, how it works, how to stay safe and how to get rid of one. Happy browsing!

Published : Oct 27 2018
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