How to Keep Your Smartphone or Tablet Safe from Post-PC Hackers

Those of us who have been using personal computers for awhile remember the old days, when PC users by the tens of thousands found their computers infected by viruses, leaving them scrambling to find and apply the proper fix. And no sooner did the system get back to normal (if you were fortunate enough to get it back to normal) than the next bit of malicious code would appear “in the wild.” Panicked users, who had either suffered an attack themselves or read horror stories about others’ experiences with viruses, would download the latest anti-virus software or update, and feel secure for a time. But not really.

A Simpler Time

Top 5 Tips to Keep your Tablet and Mobile Devices Safe from Hackers

During the early days, Apple™ users adopted a rather smug air of superiority, claiming that the Apple OS™ was immune to virus attack. For the most part, they were correct, but not for the reasons they might have thought. At that time, Apple’s MAC™ systems represented a minuscule percentage of personal computers, a percentage that has risen considerably, but remains overshadowed by the Microsoft™-powered offerings. Considering that the hackers’ primary objective was to create as much chaos as possible, it only made sense that they would focus the vast majority of their efforts on the biggest target: the millions upon millions of personal computers running Microsoft’s Windows™ operating system.

That Was Then, This is Now

Carry forth a couple of decades, and tablets and smartphones seem to be taking up many of the tasks that were previously relegated to home computers and notebooks. Sales of PCs have seemingly hit what promises to be a long-lasting plateau, while sales of tablets and smartphones have exceeded even their manufacturers’ optimistic projections. And those dark-side artisan creators of malicious code? The certainly haven’t undergone a mass epiphany and seen the error of their ways. They have merely been doing their research and developing nasty bits for their new target market – which is conveniently sitting in your satchel or shirt pocket.

Most viruses and malware find their way into Apple and Android smartphones and tablets by way of downloaded apps that have the malicious code hidden within the app itself. In this realm, Apple does maintain a significant edge in security, since all apps for the iPhones and iMac tablets are distributed through Apple’s proprietary App Store, where the code is required to pass inspection by Apple employees. Those employees, however, are human, and subject to human error. Android apps, on the other hand, are distributed via numerous sources, with a corresponding decrease in vetting efforts. While apps downloaded from Google Play are inspected, those from some other sources are handled much like open-source software, where anyone can develop and offer an app without significant oversight or vetting. Even being careful won’t guarantee that your devices won’t get infected.

If you do pick up a virus…

If you notice that your smartphone is behaving strangely, operating more slowly, or its battery life has suddenly decreased, it might have been infected with a virus, especially if the changes occur shortly after you’ve installed a new app or visited an unfamiliar website. There are a few of steps to follow to ascertain whether your device is infected, or better yet, to prevent it from getting infected in the first place.

1. Check for unfamiliar apps. If you find any apps that you did not install, delete them. The procedure varies between the iOS and Android phones, but at any rate, you’ll also want to remove the app from your backup, lest you just reinstall it the next time you do a restore. Apple suggests restoring the iPhone or iPad to its original state, a procedure that is also recommended for Android-powered products, should the removal of the suspected app not clear up the problem.

2. Know the apps you install. Don’t be too quick to download and install apps that haven’t passed some serious scrutiny. Even if you like to be the first techie on the block with the hottest state of the art hardware and software, take a little time to check out reviews and user feedback before you commit to an app.

3. Only install one app at a time. Just as we all learned the hard way, back in the bronze age of PCs, changing more than one thing at a time is a fool’s errand, as it makes it rather difficult, if not impossible, to locate the culprit that is messing with your machine. Install one app and use it for a few days or weeks before adding another.

4. Install antivirus software first thing on your Android device. There are a number of good antivirus software choices. Pick the one that looks best to you (and reviewers), install it, and keep it current and active.

5. Turn off connections when not in use. Things like Wi-Fi, location services and Bluetooth can be used by Cyber criminals and identity thieves to gain backdoor access to your personal and sensitive information. They usually piggy back on insecure apps that use location services to steal such information.

While viruses and malware aren’t quite the ominous threat they were in times past, they can still cause you a lot of problems, both on your devices and with your personal information. But by using good sense, following the device manufacturer’s instructions, and staying abreast of new threats as they arise, your smartphone or tablet can be troubled as little as possible by malicious code such as viruses and malware.

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