Everyone seems obsessed with smartphones. Everywhere you go people are zombies glued to their phones. Even my young boys are consistently (it feels like constantly) asking for permission to “please borrow” our phones. (Hey, at least they are polite in their ask! But most times I still say, “No.”) My oldest son has a passion for photography and he insists that my phone takes the best pictures and slow-motion videos. These videos are most often stunts performed by my middle child (if you are cringing or worried about possible injury—I am too!). And while I like them working together to create these masterpieces, I still remember a time when technology had nothing to do with kids playing together.
Personally, I relish the role of disliking video, Snapchatting, texting, calling and basically all things smartphones. I am the uncle teasing his college-aged nieces and nephews about having a phone that has a permanent mark in their back pocket and interrupts our big family suppers with its beeps and dings coming in. And I am that husband that asks his wife to “return to us” during family car rides when she is happily texting the other soccer moms.
However, in a strange yin-and-yang type of way, on a daily basis, I also find myself oddly drawn to my Android device as well. If you get lost or want to find a quicker route home you just click on the GPS app. A few nights ago our county issued an early morning tornado warning. My weather app notified us a full 10 minutes prior to the citywide tornado sirens. And even last night as we hosted a birthday dinner for my mom, when the time came to turn down the lights and sing Happy Birthday, I had already paired my phone with our Bluetooth speakers for a Happy Birthday tune Dance-Remix-style. It was epic!
Like them or hate them, smartphone usage continues to be on the rise. Recent studies have actually shown that 50 percent of Americans utilize smartphones as their primary source to get their digital content. The use of smartphones has surpassed tablets, computers and other electronic devices. This statistic just further proves my point that “everyone is obsessed with smartphones.” In fact, the one place in my mind that I’ve always thought was safe from the distractions of phones was church. However, have you ever noticed (and maybe you are one of them, which is a-okay!) how many people reach for their phone when the pastor is about to get into the heart of his sermon and asks the congregation to take out their Bibles? Access to any version of the Bible from the palm of your hand is amazing! Most churches nowadays even have online giving and check-in from their own customized mobile church app. After all, without being up-to-date with the latest mobile app technologies, churches risk losing Millennials and a whole future generation who are used to purchasing with a click of their phone.
Since smartphones are (and I will be intentionally misquoting Dr. Seuss) “from there to here, and here to there, [smartphones] are everywhere,” let’s take a fresh look at mobile security risks, terminology and statistics that not only challenge church goers but all mobile users.
Chargeware – Chargeware are malicious programs targeting mobile devices that trick users into accepting a scandalous end user agreement of an app, geared to apply charges to your cell phone service provider bill without your knowledge. Android.Smsreg.DA is a prime example of Chargeware, and was also our TOP detected mobile threat in 2016. Once downloaded on a system, Android.Smsreg.DA makes payments through premium rate messages while completing their registration.
Root Enabler – Root Enablers are a form of malware designed to root (gain administrative access) Android devices. Root Enabler programs have grown tremendously over the last year. Within our Thirtyseven4 Virus Labs, detections for them have increased by nearly 700% over the last 8 months. The intent of these programs is to root compromise a mobile device, thus allowing them full control over it. Many times these programs are language aware, and have been observed to target high profiled organizations like financial institutions. According to our statistics, the leading threat under this category is Android.Puxis.A. Another example is Android.Rooter.E (ranked #5 on our top detection chart). This one is more alarming because it was easily available through the Google Play Store temporarily.
Adware – Adware in the context of mobile devices are apps that automatically bombard your phone with advertisements in order to generate revenue for the app creator. Sadly, many of us are already very familiar with Adware.
Maskware -- Maskware is a term associated with malware that disguises itself to look like other popular legitimate apps. Android.Agent.TN displays itself as an adult app while performing malicious activities in the background. Another example would be Android.Downloader.D. This Android-based malware masks itself as a gaming app. Unfortunately, it was also temporarily available via the Google Play Store. This widely-circulated threat’s purpose was to send information about the infected device to a remote server. It was also created to automatically click on ads to download other Potentially Unwanted Programs.
Well, even if you are my 90-year-old Great-Grandmother (Happy Birthday, Gramma!), a glance around the streets, cities and homes of today will tell you that mobile phones are not a fad— they are here (and there and everywhere!) and they are here to stay. And if you and me and even G-Ma know that, cyber criminals have most certainly locked into that knowledge and they are very busy capitalizing on it. In 2016, The Thirtyseven4 Virus Research Team received over 8.5 million mobile malware samples. That was more than a 50 percent increase from the previous year.
We observed a nearly 1400 percent increase in mobile device malware that exploited security vulnerabilities associated with phone operating systems. We suspect that the biggest mobile threats for 2017 will include dangerous (and costly!) Mobile Ransomware and Banking Trojans.
The threats are real. If you are wondering where to begin in securing your smartphone, or what steps would be helpful, here are a few ways to safeguard your device and your information:
• Secure our mobile devices with strong passwords or other screen lock features available. Take the time and effort to do this—it makes a difference!
• Avoid public wifi networks. Connecting to unsecured wifi networks allows anyone potential access to your personal information. It is suggested to disable wifi and Bluetooth when not in use, as keeping it on can allow your location to be tracked
• Just as you would install a security product on a computer, make sure you install a powerful mobile security solution on your phone. For example, my firm offers Thirtyseven4 Total Security for Android.
• Keep your Android OS and other required third party apps up-to-date. Exploits and vulnerabilities are constantly being patched, so keeping everything current is a great defense against mobile threats.
• Avoid third party app stores, even when using trusted sources. When downloading from the Google Play Store or Apple Store. Read the posted reviews and check how many times the app was downloaded.
• Clean up after yourself. If you download an app to get a free doughnut that day and know you’re not going to use that app again, delete it. Deleting apps when no longer needed is simply good housekeeping. Shutting down your phone (relax- just for a few minutes!) on an occasion is also recommended.
• Be smart. Restrain from responding to unknown texts, calls, voicemails. Don’t click on links within texts.
One thing we all share in common are the threats and vulnerabilities to which our smart phones are prone. Cyberhackers are pointedly focusing their efforts on the devices we tote everywhere, and we can safeguard ourselves by following the safety guidelines outlined above. Just my opinion, but it also wouldn’t hurt if we actually put the phones down once in a while and reconnected with our kids, our spouse, our dog. I’m going to check out my kids’ latest stunt video.