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How Android users can get proactive about mobile security

How Android users can get proactive about mobile security

12/18/2013

It's fair to say that in the United States, Apple product releases get a somewhat brighter spotlight than their Android equivalents - but let's not forget that the Google platform remains the world's most popular operating system. Unfortunately, while the media might overlook that fact on occasion, hackers don't. With the prestige of being the most commonly used mobile OS comes a less desirable distinction: The bulk of the mobile security threats out there target smartphones and tablets that run the Google system. As such, Android users need to know what the threats are and how they can protect their data and their devices.

The Android malware boom
Recent research suggests that Android has been getting a lot more attention from cybercriminals than iOS. F-Secure's Mobile Threat Report found that the vast majority of mobile malware created this year set its sights on Google's OS. The cybersecurity firms' research found that all but seven of the 259 new mobile malware strains detected in the third quarter of 2013 were designed to infect Android devices. What's more, hackers haven't been slowing down their efforts, either. The number Android malware creations rose each quarter, from 153 in Q1 to 205 in Q2, then to 252 in Q3.

Use caution with app downloads
Clearly, extra vigilance is essential for Android users. If you're among those ranks, one of the first and simplest steps you can take in your efforts to increase mobile security is to think twice before downloading an app - and know the signs of situations that might put your smartphone or tablet at risk of infection.

Marc Rogers, principal security researcher for mobile data protection software vendor Lookout, recently spoke with InformationWeek about the dangers of app-shopping in third-party stores. He noted that malware is much more common in unofficial app marketplaces that aren't as carefully curated as Google Play.

"If you have good mobile security software installed, and you only go to trusted stores - Google, Amazon - then it's highly unlikely that you're going to encounter [malware]," Rogers told the news source.

Caution remains essential even on legitimate app-purchasing platforms, however. Trend Micro reported in an official blog post that Google Play apps accounted for 46 percent of the malicious applications it had detected as of October.

In light of this, it's helpful to know what kinds of apps are likely to contain malicious software. Free Angry Birds downloads are often malware carriers, Rodgers told InformationWeek. In general, it's better to pay for the official version of an app than to risk infection by opting for a free, unverified one.

Monitor your data
Keeping close tabs on your data usage is an effective way to determine whether or not your device might be infected. Rodgers mentioned to InformationWeek that malicious apps often send data to unauthorized third parties.

"Look at how much data your device is using, and see if there's a big discrepancy between how much data you're using, and how much your applications are using," said Rogers, according to the news source. Monitoring data usage by application is easy and intuitive to do in the Android Settings app.

If you practice caution in your app downloading and mobile Web surfing practices, you'll be much less likely to expose your Android to the risk of malware infection. However, it's possible that despite your best intentions, a simple mistake could result in a compromised operating system. In that event, mobile phone insurance will be of little use: You'll need protection goes beyond the physical device. ProtectCELL data plans allow you to back up the information on your phone or tablet and remove it from the device, even if you've lost it or don't want to turn it on and get the OS running.

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