Smartphone Malware Attacks Becoming More Commonplace

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Malware that affects smartphones is on the rise and the kind of malicious software that has long been associated with desktop computers has seemingly made the transition to mobile.

The number of incidences has risen to such an extent that there is now a significant minority of smartphone users who have been affected by virus and Trojan programs, with around a fifth of those who responded to a survey on the Dialaphone blog saying that they have been the victim of such an attack.

Just last month we reported on an alarming rise in malware within the Android app ecosystem after online security firm F-Secure found that Google’s mobile platform accounted for 79% of all such attacks during 2012. However, as worrying as information like this can be it’s worth noting that malicious software isn’t attacking handsets at random so much as it is waiting for users to inadvertently download and activate it themselves.

The truth of the matter is that the likes of Google and Apple are very good at weeding out disreputable apps before they surface in their respective app stores. In February, a record 60,000 apps were removed from Google Play and while there are a variety of reasons that a developer may find their creation being withdrawn from the service it is certainly possible that some of these removals were due to malware being detected.

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Instead, much malicious software is to be found outside of the major apps stores, often attaching itself to seemingly innocuous apps that are downloaded by users who are unaware of the risks. Strangely, considering the lack of significance that international borders have in the online world, many malware attacks and types of malicious software are restricted to certain countries and regions. Russia has been particularly badly affected and malware is beginning to emerge in the US.

But exactly what form does mobile malware take? Well, there are several different ways in which unwanted programs can affect a handset, some far more harmful than others. In recent years there have been several names which have gained prominence as a result of the frequency of their attacks.

Gemini is one of the most prolific, affecting Android handsets and transmitting information from a user’s device to a remote location. Particularly worrying about Gemini is that, according to computer security firm Symantec, it is one of the first smartphone viruses that can receive instructions as well as transmitting information, meaning that whoever is responsible for the virus can take control of an affected handset.

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Other big names included GGTracker and FinFisher, both of which work as Trojans that can be inadvertently downloaded by visiting certain websites. However, one characteristic of many such apps is that they require the user to actively allow them to be installed, often doing this by duping them into clicking on a link or onscreen command.

Having found its way into a device, malicious software can do a number of things. One common tactic is to sign users up to premium rate text message services, running up a large phone bill. Calls to premium phone lines can also be made without the user’s knowledge or consent.

However, not all unwanted software acts this way and much of it is far more benign, being more of an annoyance than a risk to your security. When we asked Dialaphone’s Facebook followers if they had ever accidently downloaded a malicious app, Lee Way replied: “Just some of the ‘free’ backgrounds that randomly post rubbish in your notification bar without any notification that the app would do that. Safe to say it was removed…”

Keeping your smartphone and yourself safe isn’t too demanding a task; the basics are that you should stick to the major, well-regulated app stores and be wary of any files or software which pop up unexpectedly and demand to be downloaded to your device.

Malware is in the rise but our survey shows that even though there are people who have been affected by it the majority of smartphone users have not. Android users are certainly more at risk than others but a little thought and sensible behaviour should keep you safe from harm.

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