Imagine this: you’re busy playing your favorite Mobile Legends game on your mobile phone when an annoying ad pops up. What’s more frustrating is that you can’t seem to get rid of the ad no matter what you do. Restarting your phone or closing your apps doesn’t help because the annoying ads just keep coming back. This means that your phone has probably been infected by an adware.
It’s usually hard to trace where malware comes from, but most of them are downloaded from malicious websites visited or dubious apps that you’ve installed. In fact, according to Symantec, one in 36 mobile phones had high-risk applications installed. These high-risk apps are often downloaded from third-party app repositories.
The rising statistics on mobile cyberattacks are alarming. With more than 5.11 billion unique mobile users around the world today, hackers can target anyone, anywhere, any time of the day. And the scary thing is that people use their mobile devices to check their emails, do their banking transactions, send out messages, post on social media, and shop online.
Unfortunately, malware on mobile devices is difficult to deal with. Research conducted by Cisco revealed that cybersecurity experts consider mobile devices as the number one enterprise asset that is hardest to defend. This is because mobile devices have a lot of vulnerabilities that attackers can easily exploit.
Common Mobile Security Threats
A lot of people don’t take mobile security seriously because they believe cyberattacks only happen on computers. This is a dangerous way of thinking because attackers have started to switch their targets to mobile devices a long time ago. Plus, they could probably get more information out of your mobile phone than your computer.
Here are some of the most common security threats that make mobile devices vulnerable to attacks:
1. Malicious apps
When Android users go to Google Play Store or the App Store to download apps, these apps usually ask for permissions during installation to access files or folders on the mobile device.
Most users, however, just glance at the list of permissions and tap the Agree button without taking a closer look at whether the permissions being requested by the app are reasonable. This attitude leaves mobile devices vulnerable to mobile threats.
2. Data snooping
Snooping or sniffing means capturing data that is being transmitted over a network between devices. Attackers can get access to the messages or information you send, especially if the other device is located on the same network.
Sniffing is common in public Wi-Fi networks or public hotspots because the network is not encrypted, and app-level security is almost non-existent.
3. Fake Wi-Fi Networks
Another danger of using public Wi-Fi is the risk of connecting to a fake network. Public Wi-Fi’s are legitimate, though generally not secure, but fake networks are on a different level.
Fake networks disguise themselves as legitimate free networks, waiting for unsuspecting users to connect and steal their data. These fake networks are common in malls, cafes, libraries, schools, or other public areas that offer free Wi-Fi.
4. Malware-infected Apps
There are many categories of mobile security threats, and hackers have equally varying ways to trick mobile users into getting infected. Downloading malware-ridden mobile applications is one of the most popular distribution strategies of malware.
Most of the time, users download apps that seem legitimate, but are in fact fake applications that contain malware. Ordinary users who are not aware of the risks and download these malicious apps on their mobile devices get infected, even without them knowing about it.
There have been several reports of malicious applications, and some of them have been downloaded by millions of users. Some of these apps even come from legitimate app repositories, such as the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store.
It is difficult to guard against such malware-infected software that disguises themselves as legitimate apps, especially if there are no immediate signs of malware infection.
5. Data Leaks
Mobile devices are vulnerable to data leakage, and cybercriminals are trying to take advantage of this weakness. It is extremely difficult to secure data on a mobile device because its security system is fragmented.
The encryption should happen on the app level, but very few app developers care about adding security features to their apps.
Data leaks can also happen due to human error. Some personal apps, such as social media and messaging apps, can transmit personal data and get leaked.
Data leaks can be very devastating, not just for the individual, but for businesses and organizations as well. This is why data leakage is one of the biggest mobile security threats in 2019.
6. SMS Phishing
Phishing is the hacker’s favorite way of stealing both personal and enterprise data. You’ve probably encountered a lot of phishing emails asking you to disclose your information or fill up a form.
On mobile devices, phishing takes the form of SMS or text messages, tricking victims into revealing sensitive information, such as passwords, account information, and login details.
Phishing scams using text messages are known as SMiShing. This scam involves sending a message that urges the user to call a specific phone number. Lottery or raffle winning notifications are examples of these SMiShing scams.
Once you call the number, the attacker can easily extract the data on your mobile phone. Most of the time, users are not aware of the data breach, especially if the device has no security software installed.
Cryptojacking is one of the fastest-growing mobile security threats in recent years. This is a relatively new threat that some mobile security leaders are not even aware of it yet.
Just like the cryptojacking malware on computers, cryptojacking on mobile involves hackers using someone else’s mobile device to mine for cryptocurrency.
Because of the malware using the device for mining cryptocurrency in the background, the device’s performance is severely affected, leading to poor battery life and other performance issues. It could also lead to overheating and physical damage to the device.
How to Protect Your Device From Mobile Threats
Mobile malware is continuously evolving. In 2017, the number of unique mobile malware variants jumped by 54%. This makes it extremely important to take these critical steps to protect your mobile device from threats.
1. Always Keep Your Phone Locked
Getting your device stolen or lost can be devastating and dangerous at the same time. If your device is not locked, anyone, even ordinary users, can get complete access to your personal data.
To avoid unauthorized access to your personal information, make sure to protect your screen with a lock. Depending on your device, you can use a PIN code, a passcode, a pattern, your fingerprint, or even face recognition so that other people can’t easily unlock your device.
When using a lock on your screen, you can also choose how long the device can be idle before it is locked. Make sure to choose the shortest idle time.
For example, iOS has the option to auto-lock the device after 30 seconds of being idle. This feature will protect your device by automatically locking the screen in case you forget to do it yourself. It also allows your device to save on battery.
2. Set Up Secure Passwords
Using strong passwords on your accounts and applications will make it more difficult for an attacker to guess them. Don’t use generic passwords that can be easily cracked, such as birthdays, favorite sports team, your car’s plate number, and others.
If possible, set up a different password for each of your applications. So if one password has been compromised, your other accounts are still protected, and the attacker won’t have access to all of your data.
Make sure to change your password regularly to increase your mobile security. But don’t write down your passwords. On the same note, don’t save your passwords on your mobile device as well.
Some browsers offer to save your password for faster logins, but this is dangerous because most browsers do not encrypt their sessions, putting your passwords at risk.
If you have trouble remembering your passwords, you can use a password manager instead.
3. Update Your Device’s Operating System
Just like computers, mobile operating systems also need to be kept updated to protect the device against mobile threats. Operating system updates are designed to improve your experience, and security patches are often included in system updates.
Updating your device’s operating system also improves its performance. So when you get a notification about a system update, make sure to install it immediately or set up a reminder to install the update at a later time. You can even set your device to automatically download and install updates automatically even without any action from you.
Both iOS and Android release system updates regularly to protect mobile devices against newly discovered threats. To check if your Android phone’s operating system is up to date, go to “About phone“, then click “System updates“. If you’re using an iOS device, go to “Settings > General > Software Update“.
4. Connect to a Secure Wi-Fi Network
The advantage of using a mobile device is that you can access the internet anytime, anywhere. When you go to lunch or grab a coffee, the first thing users do is connect to the cafe’s free Wi-Fi network.
While in the library or waiting at the airport, you can browse the internet or read the news by connecting to public Wi-Fi. Public Wi-Fi networks can help you save on data, but it is also important to understand the risks of connecting to unsecured networks.
If you have no choice but to connect to a public Wi-Fi, you can use a virtual private network or a VPN to secure your connection.
A VPN routes your connection through a secure digital server while encrypting your data so that you can keep your data protected from snoopers.
Keep in mind that free VPNs may have various disadvantages.
5. Ensure Safe Downloads
When you need to install new apps, make sure to get them from the official app stores and check their reviews before downloading them.
For Android devices, you can download apps from the Google Play Store.
For iOS devices, you can get your apps from the App Store. If you’re not careful when downloading apps, you might get the fake version or a malware-ridden app instead.
One of the most popular malware distribution strategies today is by creating rogue mobile apps that disguise as trusted brands. This is to trick users and steal their confidential information.
To avoid this trap, read app reviews, check the app’s last update, and check out the app developer’s website. If there’s something fishy somewhere, don’t download the app.
6. Don’t Root Your Phone
Jailbreaking or rooting allows users to access features that are not normally available on the device. This method unlocks the phone and removes the safeguard put in place by the manufacturer so you can access anything you want.
It might be tempting to root your device to fully customize your phone, to access unofficial app repositories, or to make troubleshooting a lot easier, but this method puts your device at risk.
Jailbreaking or rooting makes your device vulnerable to attacks, so just use it as it is.
7. Encrypt Your Data
Your smartphone contains a lot of data, even though you might not realize it. If your mobile device gets lost or stolen, all your emails, contacts, financial data, and other information are put at risk.
To protect the data on your mobile phone, you can make sure the data use encryption. When your data is encrypted, the data is stored in an unreadable format so that other people won’t be able to understand it.
Most modern mobile phones have their own encryption settings that you can enable in the security menu.
To enable this on your iOS device, tap on “Settings“, then scroll down and tap “Touch ID & Passcode“. The system will prompt you to enter your passcode. Type it in and scroll down to the bottom of the page under “Erase Data“. When you see Data Protection is enabled, then your data is encrypted.
To turn on Android’s encryption feature, make sure your device has an 80% charge left. If the device has been rooted, you need to unroot it first before continuing. Once these requirements have been met, open “Settings” and tap “Security > Encrypt Phone“.
This process could take an hour or more, depending on how much data you have on your device. If your device has less than 80% battery left or the encryption process has been interrupted, you might lose all your data because of encryption failure.
8) Install a Mobile Antivirus Software
Antivirus programs are not only useful for laptops or desktop computers. Most antivirus programs have their mobile versions for phones and tablets.
Make sure to install one on your mobile device to protect it against viruses and malicious attacks. There are a lot of mobile antivirus options out there, but you can download a trial version first to see which security solution is best for your needs.
9. Always Clean Up Your Device
When you’ve been using your phone for some time, junk files accumulate on your system and could bring problems to your device.
Aside from causing performance issues, viruses and other types of malware can hide within your junk files. Make it a habit to clean your mobile device using an Android cleaning app.
10. Backup Your Phone’s Data
Most importantly, you should keep a backup of all the important files on your phone.
For Android devices, you can backup your phone using your Google account. All your photos, files, documents, videos, contacts, emails, and even messages are all saved using your Google account.
For iOS users, you can backup your device using iCloud. Just tap “Settings > iCloud > iCloud Backup“, then toggle the switch to “On“.
Once you have a backup of your mobile phone data, you don’t have to worry about your device being lost or stolen.
Your mobile phone is just like a mini-computer. We use it not just for sending messages and making calls, but also for online banking, sending personal and work emails, online shopping, posting on social media, booking travel itineraries, gaming, and other activities.
Mobile phones have their own operating system and apps that can be exploited by malicious entities. Disregarding your mobile phone’s security is a huge mistake that costs you your personal data or even your enterprise data.
To protect your mobile device, investing in good security software and following our tips above is a good start.