When smartphones started really hitting the mobile market in the late ‘00s, it was a hacker’s free-for-all. Lethal viruses spread from device to device, deleting crucial programs and draining batteries; because the tech was so new, few people understood the vital importance of placing security software on their mobile devices.
Even as developers have become savvier regarding the vulnerabilities of their mobile systems, malware is far from eradicated in the mobile sphere. In fact, in 2014, mobile users encountered malware 75 percent more often than they did in 2013, despite better integrated security and generally smarter safety practices. Because Android corners nearly 85 percent of the mobile market, a vast majority of hackers target Android devices with their malware. The system we know and love may be the best mobile OS on the market, but it is just that superiority that makes it likely to be attacked.
In the interest of staying in front of the dreadful malware wave, you should learn about the current malware circulating the mobile sphere and pick up some tips and tricks to keeping your precious Android devices safe.
Old Android Malware & Virus Catastrophes
Before we get into what you need to look out for on your current Android devices, let’s travel through the history of terrifying mobile malware that has had Android users running for the hills — or worse, for Apple products.
The first worm to infiltrate mobile devices, called Cabir, appeared as early as 2004. This was four full years before Android was released to the public, but the worm certainly inspired dozens of malware creators to move to the mobile market, making good use of new, fascinating, unguarded technologies like Bluetooth.
The first Android-specific virus was let loose in 2010. Called Android/FakePlayer.A, the malware pretended to be a movie player that Android users downloaded from a digital store. However, instead of playing movies, the application commandeered users’ texting capabilities to send SMS messages to various numbers. All in all, this first infection wasn’t terrifying, but it did open another door to new mobile malware possibilities, and the hackers that followed in this malware’s footsteps didn’t pull any punches. The following Android viruses, worms, Trojans, and more appeared not long after FakePlayer.A paved the way:
- Fakeneflic. Like FakePlayer.A, Fakeneflic resembled a movie player, but instead monitored users’ data usage and sent personal information back to a remote server.
- TDSS. This Trojan incorporated infected smartphones into a botnet, spreading the malware and downloading other, potentially more malicious, malware onto the device.
- Android/LoveTrp. LoveTrp would sign users up for expensive subscription services without warning, costing users thousands of dollars without them realizing until their month-end statements.
- Android/GoldenEagle.A. Attaching itself to harmless applications, this virus listened to users’ voice conversations and stole vital device information, including GPS coordinates and IMEI numbers.
Newest Virus Characteristics
As security providers like McAfee and Symantec get wise to terrible techniques, hackers have become craftier in their mobile malware methods. The newest Android virus on the market is disparaged as the worst yet as it infects phones without a single symptom, doing untold damage without users’ notice.
Yet unnamed, the current malware is reported to hijack an Android device’s shutting down process: Users see the animation and watch their screen go blank, but the phone actually remains functional, allowing the malware to download personal information, like photos, phone numbers, and data usage, unimpeded. More than 10,000 phones are infected thus far, but that number continues to grow as users remain unaware of the spreading infection.
Best Practices for Mobile Security
IT professionals prescribe a number of foolishly simple security practices that work wonders at keeping your devices safe:
- Use a strong password and enable auto-lock.
- Provide a way for strangers to return your device if it is lost, like emergency contact info.
- Stay up-to-date with operating system and application updates.
- Disable Bluetooth or Wireless service when not in use.
Additionally, because mobile devices are becoming increasingly connected with all sorts of tech, from desktop computers to Wi-Fi–capable appliances like fridges and thermostats, it is more important than ever to have reliable antivirus software everywhere. Malware should soon be able to jump effortlessly from device to device, especially now that developers are spreading single-platform operating systems across multiple types of tech, as Windows 10 does.
Three things in life are certain: death, taxes, and malware. However, you don’t have to succumb to that last one as long as you have proper precautions on all of your Android (and non-Android) devices. Armed with knowledge — and trustworthy anti-malware software — you can stay safe and sane while the world goes mobile.