Thursday, August 24, 2017

How to Protect Smartphones from Viruses & Other Vulnerabilities

Depending upon your lifestyle, you may take your smartphone everywhere you go, or you may be happily turning if off at the end of the workday. Either way, smartphones have changed dramatically over the past 10 years. As a result, it can be easy to overlook the fact that in the simplest terms, they are mini-computers. Smartphones can:
  • Provide directions including traffic updates
  • Connect to our email 
  • Open documents
  • Connect us with other people via messaging apps, social media and video calls
  • Provide news, weather, streaming and more
  • Take pictures and video
  • Oh yeah, and make calls! 
If we consider how many tasks we perform using our smartphones, we need to also consider how we can best protect them from viruses and other vulnerabilities.

How to Protect Smartphones from Viruses & Other Vulnerabilities

Some of the best ways to protect smartphones are the same ways you would protect any device:
  • Do not open emails or email attachments from unknown sources
  • Do not re-use passwords
  • Refrain from clicking on links in websites that seem questionable
  • Go directly to the source when possible
    • Skip those links in emails
    • Look up company phone numbers before calling
  • Update the operating system software promptly as these often address security risks in addition to adding features
  • Update software when possible, these also regularly address security risks
There are also additional ways to protect your smartphone beyond the list above. Part of this answer lies in what the threats are targeting. In a techconnect article, Symantec showed the number of vulnerabilities to Android phones overtook the number to iOS devices in 2016 (see graphic below). This is partially due to the fact the smartphone market is now dominated by Android devices. The greater the number of devices, the higher the probability of threats.

It is also important to consider how these operating systems are managed. While it does not make every component, Apple manages the only physical device their iOS software runs on. On the contrary, and what allows Android devices to advance faster, is the fact that they run on multiple devices built by multiple manufacturers.

This can be both a benefit and a detriment. The greater the number of manufacturers, the higher the number of components being built by different companies, which increases the risk for threats. Add this to the fact that Android software is capturing 73% of the market and the risk for threats is likely to continue growing.

So, the question is, what can you do to protect the mini-computer you use to manage your day? Below are some additional ways you can protect your smartphone from viruses and other vulnerabilities:

Use caution downloading new apps
On Android - Be careful when downloading and installing apps. Part of what makes users such big fans of Android software is the huge variety and availability of new apps. Apps can be downloaded directly from Google Play as well as alternative marketplaces and directly from some websites.

On iOS - While the iOS app store has the reputation of being stricter on new app approvals, no system is perfect so always use caution downloading new apps.

Before downloading any app, read the reviews. Ask trusted peers if they have heard anything or used the app. Search for the app on the Internet to see if there is any red flags. Sometimes an app is free of viruses but causes phone crashes and other such annoyances you might not want to deal with.

Backup your device - regularly!
Backing up the device is an important step. Connect to a trusted computer or cloud storage, whichever is most comfortable to you. Just be sure you get a copy of the device's data and that you do it regularly. If something happens to the smartphone, how quickly you can get back up and running after replacing it is dependent upon how recent and thorough your backups are. 

If you run into issues with specific apps, email links, phone numbers, whatever it may be, share this information with people you know. When people talk about active scams, they are more likely to protect their friends. Additionally, your friends will often start communicating more with you about scams they have heard about or encountered. This information could save us from making a bad decision later. 

The more each of us communicates about threats, whether we were a victim or an intended victim, the more educated we will all be when faced with similar scams. 

Trust your gut
Last, but probably most importantly, trust your gut. If you are doing something you have never done before and hesitate, or question what you are doing, wait. Talk to people you trust. Do some research. Always remember to slow down if you find yourself making a quick, but perhaps uninformed, decision as these can lead to disastrous results.

Smartphones are known for being more resilient to threats than computers and laptops. However, smartphones have become mini-computers and as we spend more time on them, they will become a bigger target. To protect your smartphone, make sure you are installing trusted apps, back up your device regularly in case of a failure, and share your experiences with others. Lastly, always trust your gut!

As always, there is so much information available to us if we simply take the time to find it. In doing so we will better protect our devices!

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