Why it’s not just Android phone users who should worry about antivirus software

It is just Android users who need to be worried about buying antivirus software ?

There is a certain level of misplaced confidence within the Apple community about viruses. The belief appears to be that, simply because Apple users used to be less exposed to viruses than their PC counterparts, their phones will not be affected either. The truth, as we see below, is rather different.

In this article, we look at the key factors which influence the likelihood of a phone getting infected with a virus or malware. Then we consider where the major risks for each operating system, side by side. Finally, we explain some of the steps you can take to ensure your phone stays virus free, whoever you bought it from.

Mobile Phone Antivirus - How Knowledgable Are People On The Risk

 

Why it’s not just Android phone users who should worry about viruses

Low market share of Apple‘s platforms share has led to ‘security through obscurity’.

Whether you have an iPhone or an Android phone, there are always risks from viruses on the internet. Every mobile phone user needs to be aware of the potential negative effects of malware on their phone. There are two factors which influence how likely a user is to be stricken with malware on their phone.

  • The market size of their operating system :
    To a large extend, those writing the malicious code are lured by the potential markets they’re addressing. As mobile phones become more popular, the platforms they’re sold on become a bigger target for hackers and people writing malicious code. As any ‘entrepreneur’ would, these people are targeting the biggest market available to them. Over time, these groups of hackers build up depositories of information about a particular operating system and lessons are learned. As a result, because the majority of the phones in the world run Android, Android users are most at risk.Conversely, iPhone users, historically, have had less to worry about. iPhone users have benefitted through the same security facilities that benefited their Mac computer cousins. Low market share of Apple‘s platforms share has led to ‘security through obscurity’. However, these days, with their continued success, iPhone users who previously believed themselves to be ‘safe’ are now realizing they may face exactly the same threats their Android cousins have faced for some time.
  • The code base of their operating system :
    From a technology standpoint, Android has been developed around ‘Java’ – a very common programming language. That means malware can be written ( also in Java ) on any PC in the world and be sent off to attack Android phones. Writing malware for Macs or iPhones takes rarer coding skills and different hardware. For example, as well as a rarer skill set, you’re going to need a rarer computer – a Mac – to do it.

Because of the relatively small market size of iPhones ( there are a lot of iPhones on the market, it’s just that there are just a lot more Androids out there) and because it’s easier to code the malware which causes the problems, Android users are most at risk from viruses and malware.

However, don’t be fooled. It is possible to get a virus on your iPhone. It’s just less likely. Apple have their own accreditation facility for apps and software that goes in to the iTunes store. That weeds out some obvious avenues of attack. Anything submitted to them has to meet a high bar of quality. Less risk is not no risk. Here are the biggest problems for iPhone users.

  • Social Media Settings :
    People with an iPhone should still be aware of things like their Social Media settings. There is a naive certainty among Apple users that they are immune to attack simply because, historically, their place in the market has been so small.
  • Jailbroken iPhones :
    ‘Jailbreaking’ an iPhone is the process of removing a number of restrictions which were put in place by Apple to secure your phone. Conceptually, it’s not dissimilar to rooting a phone. Tech heads will point out the difference is in the amount of control that each of these activities will give you. In simple terms, Rooting an Android phone gives you access to the entire phone, the whole operating system and really lets you start from scratch if you want to. Jailbreaking is less severe. It lets you install third part apps which have not been authorized by Apple. Many jailbreak their phone and experience no problems. And remember, if you do Jailbreak your phone, apple will not try and help you. If you’ve ‘jailbroken’ your iPhone, we strongly recommend you install antivirus software. It’s far more likely you’re going to have probes once you step out of Apple’s controlling but reassuring cover.
  • Apple focused viruses :
    In late 2014, researchers established a virus which has been specifically designed to affect iPhone users. The ‘Wirelurker’ virus is one which Apple themselves believes may have infected hundreds of thousands of iPhone users. The virus is spread by downloading software from unofficial sources to a Mac. Later, when iPhones are attached to the mac, the virus is transmitted to the device.

So, even Apple users face some threats out on the internet with their phone. Whichever antivirus software you choose and whatever platform you’re on, software alone will not save you. Make sure you meet the basic standards of behavior for using your device online. In our next section, we look at the process of avoiding viruses which need to support the antivirus software you install.

Avoiding viruses on your phone without antivirus software

There are a variety of simple, practical configuration steps you can take with your phone to

  • Choose Chrome :
    Chrome is a good example of a secure browser. It auto updates in the background to make sure you’re always using the latest defence against malware which may just have been released. It has malware protection built in. And it’ll warn you when you’re on a site that Google have had concerns about. You don’t have to use Chrome. But you should be aware of the security performance of your browser and ensure that you’ve reviewed the security settings so they’re tuned to your needs.
  • Strong password :
    Many of the antivirus software vendors also sell password management software. We strongly endorse it’s use. Password management
  • Strong spam filters :
    Spam is the name given to unsolicited emails. Some estimates suggest most of all internet traffic is spam. One key thing you should do to avoid problems is to choose an internet email provider which has good spam controls. When you have one, make sure you set your spam filters securely.
  • Phishing :
    Phishing is fraud using email to solicit and misuse personal information. Imagine getting an email ( which looks as though it’s ) from your bank or PayPal. You click a link in it, go to a site which is very much like PayPal or your banks and enter your user name and password. From that point, the people who sent you the email have your details. You should always be aware that this threat exists. When you receive an email purporting to be from your bank or another institution consider what they’re asking you. Many phishing emails include outlandish recommendations that you email your details or visit unlikely websites.
  • Question every download :
    Avoid downloads from unexpected attachments from people, especially people you don’t know. If in doubt, don’t open it.
  • Physical security :
    Even the best antivirus software will let you down in securing your personal details if you leave your phone unlocked and open in a public place.

Summing up the risks to iPhone users

Almost everyone holds the belief that iPhones don’t suffer risk when it comes to the installation of viruses. It’s true to say that Android users face more risk. It’s not true to say iPhone users face none at all.

iPhone users do benefit from the fact that Android is available on a larger number of handsets, is a more open platform and is based on better understood software. However, any phone user is open to some form of risk to the personal information on their phone. Some viruses are specifically written to attack iPhone users. Apple customers are equivalently at risk on social media sites and in the absence of basic security measures too.

In any circumstance, it probably makes sense to consider purchasing antivirus software for your phone.

 

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.