How to protect your smartphone from bad apps
McAfee have released a set of five tips to help ensure that your smartphone remains secure and free of potentially harmful mobile apps
By Al Sacco | CSO | Published: 14:57, 15 November 2011
The sheer number of people embracing smartphones makes those mobile devices and the data stored on them attractive targets to Bad Guys looking to access or steal your personal information. And though mobile malware isn't exactly a major issue at this point, it could be if those hackers and thieves have their way. But you can, and you should, do your best to protect your device and your data.
And McAfee, a maker of various antivirus and security software, wants to help - and sell you some software, of course. On that note, the company has released a set of tips to help secure and protect your smartphone from malicious applications.
"McAfee Labs is seeing significant growth in the mobile malware threat landscape. Due to the fact that smartphones and tablets have eclipsed unit sales of desktop and laptop PCs, cybercriminals have set their sights on mobile and maliciously modified apps are becoming a more popular vector for infecting devices."
Check out the following five tips for advice on how to avoid bad apps:
1. Mobile app awareness
McAfee says the volume of identified smartphone malware is small compared to desktop or laptop malware, but it does exist. And more and more potentially harmful apps are showing up all the time. Staying aware of the growing threat is a great way to prevent malware infections, McAfee says.
2. Check out apps and app-sources before installing
Whenever a cool new app hits the app store/market/world/whatever, the average person's tendency is to install it first and worry about repercussions later. But McAfee strongly advises against this. Instead, McAfee suggestions that smartphone owners research apps and the sources from which they originate before installing.
One easy, though not exactly foolproof, way to "vet" an app is to simply look at the reviews in the application store that's offering the software. The more reviews, the better since this means more people have spent time with a given application. McAfee also says that app recommendations from friends are a good way to help ensure apps are "safe", since those friends likely have experience with the software if they're recommending it.
You can also perform a quick Google search of the application name or publisher to see what kind of results come up. If you find few or no results, you should be wary of installing the application.
3) Obtain apps via reputable app stores
Some mobile platforms let you install any and all compatible applications you find on the Web, from any source, while others restrict the sources you can use to find software. While many smartphone owners value the freedom to choose which software they install, and the app sources, it's usually a good idea to stick with your official app stores when downloading software, McAfee says.
If you use an iPhone, stick with the Apple App Store; if you're on Android, use Google's Android Market; if you're a BlackBerry user, employ RIM's BlackBerry App World. These stores aren't flawless, as proven by a piece of malware that recently made it into the Apple App Store, but, in general, they're safer than using random software publishers.
McAfee also notes that Android users can block the installation of non-Market applications by unchecking the "Unknown sources" option in the Android Applications Settings menu on their devices.
4) Familiarise yourself with app permissions
Whenever you install new applications on your smartphone, you're typically presented with some sort of application "permissions" screens, which attempt to inform which potentially sensitive resources will be accessed by a new app. You should be aware of which permissions are granted for certain applications, according to McAfee, and if something seems odd - if a game requests access to your address book, for instance - you can, and should, block the request.
The problem is that it's sometimes hard to determine whether an application really needs the permissions it requests. And some apps won't work without be granted certain permissions. The best you can do is pay attention to the permissions apps requests, and use your best judgment, based on how widely-used the app and its publisher is, for example.
5) Use a mobile antivirus client
Considering the fact that McAfee is an antivirus software maker, and it offers a mobile antivirus client, it should come as no surprise that the company recommends smartphones user employ antivirus software. In general, the more precautions you take to ensure your device is protected, the better. And there are some free mobile antivirus options on the market, as well - just search your respective app store for "antivirus".
Unfortunately, some say free antivirus clients don't really do much to protect your smartphone. And the software can often be "heavy weight," which can take a toll on your overall device performance and battery life. It doesn't hurt, however, to install and try out a free antivirus client or purchase a paid app, assuming it's from a reputable source, like McAfee, Symantec, F-Secure or Kaspersky.