The Fifth Column: Smart Tips For Your Smartphone
Ever since I rooted my phone and installed custom firmware, I was wondering about the risk of malware and spyware on my phone. I considered installing anti-virus software but given the drain on the battery and system resources, I decided to give it a miss.
I recently read that there is a website which allows you to make your own malware with two clicks of a mouse button. The basic premise is that once you have created the malware, it is hosted on a website and appears to be a legitimate application available for download. Once the app is installed, it sends messages to premium rated SMS numbers. This scenario is however not as frightening as it might sound. According to security experts, the best way to avoid this type of malware app is to ensure that you only download them from the official app store.
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There are a few basic precautions that you can take in order to safeguard your phone from malicious software. Never reply to any unsolicited text messages, before you install an application from the Play Store, check the reviews about the app and also check what other apps have been developed by the company. This will give you a fairly good idea of the quality and reliability of the application.
I was tempted to install a banking app on my phone, but thus far I have not taken the plunge, but not because of any software security concerns. I do my online banking on my home computer and I am reassured by the fact that I have up to date anti-virus software on it as well as a firewall, both on my PC and router. My doubts are driven more by the portability of my phone rather than the security of the banking software.
A few basic and common sense precautions can help to mitigate most security concerns. If you check your phone bill regularly, it is easy to detect if any unauthorised charges have been added to it. If there are any unauthorised charges, then you can lay a complaint with WASPA, the Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association. A premium rated service provider has to have a record of your subscription to the service and if there is no record, any fees that they charge must be refunded. In addition you should ensure that you only download your apps from a reliable source and not from any unofficial locations because it is difficult to determine the authenticity of an app which is hosted on a torrent or news server.
I have read a few articles which mentioned that the Android OS is a popular target for malware because the applications are Open Source. This means that an application can easily be recompiled with malicious code and then released to an unsuspecting public. There is of course two sides to this argument. The other side is that because an application is open source and hence the code the is freely available, there are more eyes available to both identify and then fix any security flaws. With closed source or proprietary software, the code is not freely available but this does not necessarily make the software more secure. An obvious example is the security of Windows versus Linux. Despite the fact that Linux is an Open Source operating system, it is arguably a lot more secure than its Windows counterparts.
Whether you choose to root your phone or not, there is a risk to your device if you install applications without vetting them. The Google Play store does scan all their apps for malware, the apps are also tested to check that they do not exhibit any suspicious activity. As an additional precaution, you can scan your Android phone with X-Ray to check it for security vulnerabilities. But the easiest way to secure your phone is to only install software from a reputable source and ensure that you do not reply to any unsolicited messages. These basic steps can be as effective as installing security software on your device and will definitely be less resource intensive.