Mobile Antivirus

Mobile phone security has become a burning issue for many mobile phone users in Australia. It seems like every day there are disturbing reports of both iOS and Android system security breaches raising serious concerns for users. Although virus problems are most frequently associated with personal computers, mobile phones are far from exempt from the problems they cause. It’s a problem which is seemily getting worse quickly.

According to a 2011 report, almost every Android phone is “potentially leaking” personal data that criminals would love to get their hands on.

Independent research shows that malware (malicious software) threats to mobile device users continue to increase in both number and severity. Millions of iOS devices were infected with Masque and Wirelurker malware in 2014. According to a 2011 report, almost every Android phone is “potentially leaking” personal data. That’s personal data that criminals would love to get their hands on.

Criminals are Drawn by the Rich Pickings Mobile Data Provides

Why do hackers want your personal information ? The amount of sensitive data now stored on mobile devices provides them irresistible attraction. Their activities include :

  • Illegal access to personal financial data.
    Theft of bank / credit card details and online banking passwords provides them a significant step forwards. If their goal is to raid your accounts, the information held in the browser on your phone or transacted across an open wireless network can take them much closer to unauthorised access to your accounts.
  • Illegal access to phone services :
    So called ‘Cyber thieves’ have discovered how to remotely or automatically send SMSs from mobile phones to premium-rate numbers. These SMSs incur substantial charges without the phone owner’s knowledge. They are often only discovered if and when the bill owner notices.
  • Destruction or blocking of phone data:
    Criminal gangs have worked out how to remotely block phones so that users can’t access them (the Olag Pliss incident is a classic example). Once their device is embargoed, users are sent messages demanding payment in return for unlocking the phone. Even if the owner pays the ransom there is no guarantee the phone is going to unlocked.

How Malware is Spread

The sorry truth is that, every time you connect to a website, click a URL, or download a file from the internet, these increasingly organised criminal gangs have the opportunity to gai access your personal data.

Google and Apple and their developer teams – the people in charge of developing the core Android and iOS platforms are trying to mitigate the problem. They’ve invested a lot in assisting their users avoid these threats. Great efforts have been undertaken to block illicit access to your phone even before you unwrap it at home. Even so, as these incidents show, there are no guarantees their endeavours will be successful.

Phones numbering in the billions on both platforms creates the problems. The potential profits from identify theft fraud, or even monitoring your online activities, provide a strong incentive for hackers to hack.

As a result, organised groups, often operating under the auspices of organised crime are encouraged to seek new ways to circumvent device security. The problem is then compounded by innocent users. Phone owners make errors of judgment. Now and again a risky website is visited or a link is clicked without verifying that it comes from a legitimate source. And that’s when the trouble begins.

Is Free Antivirus Software OK to Use ?

So, how can users avoid problems ? Well, increasing awareness of the damage malware can cause is a good thing. For many risk averse individuals, it’s prompted consideration of antivirus apps on their phone.

And the software industry has responded to the opportunity too. IT security developers, which previously only focussed on desktop computers have recognised that mobiles are an emerging market for them.

There are now various Android antivirus and iOS antivirus apps to supplement in-built mobile device security safeguards. Some are made available to the public free of charge. This raises the obvious question — if a free security app is able to do the job why would anyone want to buy such software?

Whether a free antivirus app is going to meet your mobile phone security needs depends on the type of device you have and on your expectations of its functions.

What you’ll get with free antivirus software :

Before you decide that a free mobile antivirus app is your best choice, remember that free antivirus:

  • Provides a minimum level of protection.
    The main service that free antivirus software offers is a malware scan. Sometimes it may also allow you to check for bad links on your browser.
  • Usually contain adverts.
    As with almost everything that is ‘free’ on the internet, phone security apps provided without charge often contain advertisements. Hosting adverts enables free security app developers to profit from their work without imparting a charge. They can be inconvenient and annoying for users.
  • No telephone technical support :
    You cannot expect any technical support from free antivirus app distributors. You’ll have to sort out any configuration problems yourself. This is fine for those who are technically minded and have experience with the details of phone software. Unfortunately, most of us don’t fit that bill.
  • Might contain malware.
    It’s rare but not unheard of. Believe it or not you might be tricked into downloading malware posing as a free mobile antivirus app.

What are the Benefits of Paid Antivirus

Paid antivirus apps offer a great deal more than their free competitors in terms both of virus protection and additional features. The best mobile antivirus apps combine a number of disparate, useful functions in to an holistic phone security system. Often this means going beyond a core scanning facility in to wrap around ancillary services. This can include malware blocking, data backup, social media threat monitoring, parental content locking and phone device theft safeguards.

Trend Micro’s package is a classic example of what you can expect to find in some of the superior paid mobile antivirus apps. Trend’s security app helps you fight off data thieves and spyware in multiple ways:

  • Effective scanning :
    These days, paid antivirus software is updated constantly by companies like Tren. The antivirus component is kept in the cloud and updated daily or hourly. The result is a tool which is available to users at any time, and which has been constantly updated to deal with to newly reported threats from anywhere around the world. As a result, when a virus is detected on your phone, your app triggers the download of an antivirus capability which is far more likely to safeguard your phone.
  • Device specific protection :
    Android and iOS platform software is customised by antivirus software providers independently on separate development paths. The result is a product focused to meet the particular and unique challenges faced by each.
  • Full technical support :
    Users are supported over the telephone, email or online chat, when they have a problem. Whatever the issue, installation or configuration, online user forums and expert support staff can assist the non technical to resolve it quickly and ensure safeguards on the device are implemented appropriately.
  • Anti theft protection :
    A critical software component for mobile devices is anti-theft protection. The nature of mobile phones suggests they will be taken out of the house / familiar work environments a lot. Trend’s anti-theft protection allows you to quickly locate a stolen or lost mobile device and remotely delete personal data.
  • Backups Data :
    The software package comes with enough backup space for critical information including contact information and sent messages. Additional space for image and picture files is available if required.
  • Prolongs battery life :
    Trend cancels unnecessary processes and closes apps which are not needed to ensure battery life maximised.
  • Parental lock :
    An almost critical component of device management for parents, parental lock is something you will find on Trend’s software and won’t on the free alternative. Parental locks offers users with the capability to set parental controls over their phone’s internet access. Both blacklists and whitelists are considered. These filters are often a value add feature which, alone justify an investment in antivirus software.

This is a summary. You can read more here.


So – is the extra money worth it?

Whether paying for antivirus software makes sense for you, comes down to personal circumstance. What’s right one mobile device user may not be right for another user. Factors to take into account include:

  • How confident are you online ?
    How much confidence do you have in your mobile phone’s current defenses against malware and your own ability to manage any problems you find ?
  • How well do you know the sites you visit ? 
    Are you sure that there is no chance that you are ever going to browse to a risky website, or click on a URL without checking ?
  • Have you ever lost your phone or had it stolen ?
    Do you think there is any real possibility that your mobile device might one day be mislaid or stolen?

If you believe the risks to your mobile are trivial, given the risks, you are probably not going to be interested in a paid phone antivirus.

For those that feel there is a threat, the small amount of money required to insure a phone ( typically antivirus software will cost between $20 and $30 per phone per year ) is almost certainly a small enough amount to spend.

However you feel, our advice is that you stay informed. The mobile phone antivirus landscape is always changing. Keep in mind that risk levels regularly change as criminals seek and find new ways of getting access to your phone. The decision you make now might not be the right one for you in a few months.


Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.