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How to improve your smartphone SECURITY

July 05, 2013 12:13 IST

How to improve your smartphone SECURITY

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If you don’t follow these tips your bank details and credit card info could be compromised.

With the entire world being more connected than ever before, it’s now easier than ever for a virus to infect computer systems. Despite the prevalence of anti-virus software, anti-spyware, anti-rootkits and whatnot, viruses continue to swell in number. However, with the upswing in smartphone and tablet sales, a new danger -- or one that is still relatively young -- in the form of mobile viruses is becoming more common.

How do you fight against these viruses? How do you ensure that your precious data -- which includes phone numbers, contacts, schedules, etc. -- doesn’t get corrupted or just outright stolen?

Of course, viruses are only one kind of malware. There are plenty of smartphone apps that secretly upload information about your contacts and system data online, without you even knowing it. Last year alone, 60 Android apps were guilty of this crime and though Google is cracking down on these apps, they are still as widespread as ever. It’s only getting worse, as anti-virus software creator McAfee Labs recently reported that malware threats on smartphones increased by 600 per cent from 2011 to 2012 alone.

So how does one establish proper smartphone security in an age where key-logging software knows everything you type, including your bank details and credit card info?




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Mobile operating system and the bane of security

Whenever a malware needs to target a user, it does so through the operating system. Like on desktops, there are multiple operating systems for mobiles including BlackBerry OS, Apple iOS, Windows Phone 8 and Android. The security of one’s smartphone depends as much on the OS they have installed as their day-to-day functioning.

By virtue of encryption alone -- and due to the decreased number of apps -- BlackBerry OS is still the most secure mobile OS out there. Apple’s iOS, which follows a heavily guarded approach when it comes to app development -- to say nothing of Apple’s architecture -- is second in line with Windows Phone 8, due to the lack of supported apps and Microsoft’s own stringent app development process, being third.

That leaves Android in at last. Many smartphone manufacturers include their own security in devices (SAFE: Samsung Approved for Enterprise comes to mind) to go along with the security that Android has. However, Android is open-source. Anyone can develop apps and upload them to the Google Play Store. The sheer variety of Android devices also makes it tough to get a handle on, due to the different UIs, customisations, services and many other factors that can cause a headache.

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Tips for improving mobile security

The best way is through mobile anti-virus software, which scans any attachments you receive for viruses and malware. Companies like AVG, Norton and McAfee offer anti-virus software for free, but it’s not always foolproof. There are plenty of ways to ensure that you remain malware free, even in the absence of any software.

Firstly, always be cautious about the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity you have enabled. It is estimated that many viruses travel through Bluetooth, where security is lax. Either disable both connectivity options or ensure that your smartphone can monitor the connections being received and sent out in real-time. If a device is trying to connect to your smartphone to send any information, you need to be able to know -- and to stop it.

Some of the same philosophies for PCs also apply to smartphones.

You wouldn’t just connect your USB pen drive into a computer at a cyber café and then take it home to use without scanning it. The same applies for smartphones and tablets -- wherever you’re connecting, if the system in question has a virus, you can be sure it’ll pass to your mobile device. Fortunately, many anti-virus software also allow for USB scanning so you can remove viruses from your mobile even if you don’t have an anti-virus installed on it.

However, apps remain the biggest threat to one’s security. If you don’t properly read the terms and conditions that an app is presenting you with, there’s a chance that you’re giving it authority over your entire life. Mobile anti-virus software can scan whatever apps you download and collect information on the different security threats that they may cause. But it’s always best to download your apps from known sources, that too when there’s plenty of feedback available. If there’s an emulator online that promises you free games but has little reviews or feedback, you can be sure it’s trouble. The same applies from files download from the web -- no matter where you get it from, always be paranoid enough to scan your device later to see if its contracted anything.

Other tips like updating your OS, clearing your cache of cookies and doing regular checks of your device are a given.

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What does the future hold?

As much as we’d like to say, you’d be completely safe, we can’t. Viruses are everywhere and just like human viruses, they evolve and adapt to circumstances. As soon as an anti-virus company introduces measures to eradicate a virus, a new one will arrive to bypass those very same measures within minutes. It’s a huge threat on PCs and with the burgeoning smartphone and tablet market it will continue to be a threat for years to come. However, by following the above steps, you can reduce the chances of contracting malware greatly.

Of course, the last -- and best -- option is to ensure that you don’t have any confidential information such as bank account numbers, passwords, credit card information stored on your phone. While your contacts will always be exposed, you can at least keep the damage to a minimum -- and in the meantime, practice memorising your passwords.

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