• Fri. Sep 23rd, 2022

Can your cell phone catch a virus? Yes – but you will need to look carefully to see the signs

ByCindy J. Daddario

Apr 27, 2022

With nearly 84% of the world’s population now owning a smartphone and our reliance on them growing, these devices have become an attractive avenue for scammers.

Last year, cybersecurity firm Kaspersky detected nearly 3.5 million malicious attacks on mobile phone users. The spam messages we receive on our phones via text or email often contain links to viruses, which are a type of malicious software (malware).

Chances are that at some point you installed malware that infected your phone and ran (without you realizing it) in the background. According to a global report commissioned by the private company Zimperium, more than a fifth of mobile devices have encountered malware. And four out of ten mobiles in the world are vulnerable to cyberattacks.

But how do you know if your phone has been targeted? And what can you do?

How does a phone get infected?

Like personal computers, phones can be compromised by malware.

For example, the Hummingbad virus infected 10 million Android devices within months of its creation in 2016 and endangered up to 85 million devices.

Generally, a phone virus works the same way as a computer virus: malicious code infects your device, replicates and spreads to other devices by automatically sending messages to other people in your contact list or automatically forwarding itself as an e-mail.

A virus can limit the functionality of your phone, send your personal information to hackers, send your contacts spam messages related to malware, and even allow the virus operator to “spy” on you by capturing your entries at screen and keyboard and tracking your location.

In Australia, Scamwatch received 16,000 reports of the Flubot virus in just eight weeks in 2021. This virus sends text messages to Android and iPhone users with links to malware. Clicking on the links may cause a malicious application to be downloaded to your phone, giving crooks access to your personal information.

Flubot scammers regularly change their target countries. According to cybersecurity firm Bitdefender, FluBot operators targeted Australia, Germany, Poland, Spain, Austria and other European countries between December 1, 2021 and January 2 this year.

Are Apple or Android more secure?

While Apple devices are generally considered more secure than Android and less prone to virus attacks, iPhone users who “jailbreak” or modify their phone expose themselves to security vulnerabilities.

Likewise, Android users who install apps outside of the Google Play Store increase their risk of installing malware. It is recommended that all phone users be on their guard as both Apple and Android are vulnerable to security risks.

That said, phones are generally better protected against viruses than personal computers. This is because software is usually installed through authorized app stores that check every app (although some rogue apps can sometimes slip through the cracks).

Also, compared to computers, phones are more secure because apps are usually “sandboxed” in their own isolated environment – unable to access or interfere with other apps. This reduces the risk of infection or cross-contamination with malware. However, no device is completely immune.

Watch out for the signs

While it’s not always easy to tell if your phone is infected, it will exhibit abnormal behaviors if it is. Some signs to look out for include:

  • poor performance, such as apps taking longer than usual to open or crashing randomly
  • excessive battery drain (due to malware constantly working in the background)
  • increased mobile data usage
  • unexplained billing charges (which may include increased data usage charges due to the malware eating away at your data)
  • unusual pop-ups, and
  • the device overheats unexpectedly.

If you suspect that a virus has infected your device, there are steps you can take. First, to prevent further damage, you will need to remove the malware. Here are some simple troubleshooting steps:

  1. 1.Use a reliable antivirus app to scan your phone for infections. Some reputable providers offering both paid and free protection services include Avast, AVG, Bitdefender, McAfee or Norton.
  2. 2.Clear your phone’s storage and cache (on Android devices), or clear browsing history and website data (on Apple devices).
  3. 3.Restart your iPhone or reboot your Android phone to enter Safe Mode, a feature in Android that prevents third-party apps from working as long as they’re enabled.
  4. 4.Remove any suspicious or unknown apps from your list of downloaded apps and if you are an Android user, turn off safe mode once the apps are removed.
  5. 5.As a last resort, you can backup all your data and do a factory reset on your phone. Resetting a phone to its original settings will eliminate any malware.

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Protect your phone against infections

Now that you’ve fixed your phone, it’s important to protect it from future viruses and other security risks. The mobile security apps mentioned above will help you with this. But you can also:

  • avoid clicking on unusual pop-ups or links in unusual text messages, social media posts or emails
  • only install apps from authorized app stores, such as Google Play or Apple’s App Store
  • avoid jailbreaking or modifying your phone
  • check app permissions before installing, so you know what the app will be accessing (rather than blindly trusting it)
  • back up your data regularly, and
  • keep your phone software updated to the latest version (which will have the latest security patches).

Always monitor your phone for suspicious activity and trust your instincts. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Ritesh Chugh is Associate Professor of Information and Communications Technology at CQUniversity Australia. This piece first appeared on The conversation.