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The rise of mobile malware: What is it and what harm does it do?

If you’re not aware of malware, you really should be. It’s a rising threat, especially in the world of mobile devices – and even if you think you’re safe, you could still be vulnerable to attack.

PC users across the land should already cower in fear at the mere mention of Malware; a digital nastiness which can infect your computer and do anything from spam your web browser with endless pop-up ads, right through to logging your personal data and sharing it with nefarious cyber-crims (who then go and spaff all your cash on Dairylea Lunchables or people trafficking or whatever).

Indeed, malware has become so prevalent that even device manufacturers themselves have been inadvertently – or fully intentionally, depending upon who you believe – getting in on the dubious action.

Your own gadgets are spying on you

Samsung recently irked privacy campaigners when news emerged that the firm’s Smart TVs were spying on users in their living rooms. Apparently some of the nosy tellies were using their built-in mics to take in every argument about Wotsits down the back of the sofa and irritating mother-in-laws, then feeding that info to boffins in a lab somewhere (for the greater good, no doubt).

However, the latest incident of clandestine computery calamity comes via Chinese electronics giant Lenovo, who recently stoked the ire of its customer-base by actively preloading selected laptop models with price-comparison/image search software SuperFish. As a result, Lenovo opened up those customers to potential cyber-attacks, something you’d hope your device manufacturers would be actually trying to stop.

Who exactly would benefit from this kind of caper is unclear, but if a bonafide tech player can bone-headedly compromise users’ online privacy in such a way, it just goes to show how sophisticated hackery has become – and that the techbiz’s attitude to civil liberties is questionable at present. Data is clearly a commodity these days and there are lots of people out there who want yours, be they a stand-up worldwide brand or shadowy Russian organised crime cartel.

Phoning it in

It’s not just your ‘traditional’ hardware that’s being targeted though – since the birth of the smartphone, malware and spyware has steadily become a concern for owners of smart devices. At the last count, Google’s Android operating system can currently be found on over 1 billion devices, and that hasn’t escaped the attentions of hackers. Those bedroom-based bastards have upped their game in recent times, banging out all manner of spyware and malware to infiltrate your innocent little Android and filch all of your precious data.

The most common breach of mobile data security comes via ‘short message fraud’, or phishing/smishing as you might better know it. This is when a hacker sends you an email or SMS purporting to be from a friend or reputable source such as a bank or service provider, often with instructions to click a link that directs to a legitimate-looking webpage asking for log-in credentials or security information. Enter it and you could suffer all kinds of nastiness, including identity fraud, unauthorised transfers of funds, hacked email accounts – the list is endless.

Scam-a-lam-a-ding-dong

The illegal shenanigans don’t end there though, no siree. Cybercriminals are forever coming up with more and more complex ways to attack mobile devices, perhaps wise to the fact that, according to recent research by IDC, only around 5% of smartphones and tablets have any sort of antivirus protection installed.

Android-powered smart devices bear the brunt when it comes to malware attacks, most likely due to the sheer number of devices in use, which makes them an attractive target to digital miscreants after your sensitive info. According to a recent report by Gallic telecoms giant Alcatel-Lucent, malware infections in mobile increased by 25% in 2014, with an estimated 16 million devices affected. We’re braced for even worse stats in 2015.

Is your Android being spied on?

There’s also been a jump in the level of spyware wangling its way into smartphones and tablets. Spyware, whilst a kind of malware, differs slightly as its MO is to sit in the background and stealthily collect information such as location, incoming and outgoing calls, text messages, web browsing habits – all that kind of stuff – as opposed to hoodwinking you into actively giving up personal information.

If just 1% of the Android user-base has one of those apps inadvertently installed and secretly monitoring their daily smartphonery, a whopping 10 million users could be unwittingly shovelling their personal information to dark and shadowy forces.

But Apple users don’t look so smug…

Apple devotees come off a bit better than their Android-toting counterparts. For years, Mac users have held their shiny, extortionately priced hardware up as some kind of paragon of impenetrability and generally, they’ve been right to do so – the Alcatel report notes that less than 1% of infections came via Apple and BlackBerry smartphones.

But iOS users, don’t look so smug. Malicious developers have hoodwinked iPhone fans into installing fake email apps, which then transmit all of your personal details back to them, including passwords and other sensitive info. Yikes!

The recently highlighted Gmail malware vulnerability and the Find My iPhone exploit that could have had a helping hand in last year’s ‘celebrity grumble-fest dubbed ‘the fappening’, indicates that fortress Cupertino could soon be breached even further. We don’t mean to cause alarm though – if you’re worried about your bum being posted and seen by millions on Reddit, then don’t be. Just a few simple steps can protect your smart device from the nasty badmen.

Resist the free Wi-Fi

And lastly, all phones are vulnerable if you happen to hook up to a dodgy Wi-Fi network on the go. Terrifyingly, scammers have been known to set up seemingly legitimate and completely free hubs outside of conference centres and services, which appear to the untrained eye to be completely legit – but get connected and you’ll find your every keystroke logged and password pinched. Check out our full feature on dodgy free public Wi-Fi for the deets.

How to prevent malware from infecting your phone

Suitably terrified yet? Well, you can now check out our complete guide to dodging mobile malware too.

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