Malware, ransomware, and viruses are at an all-time high right now with COVID and the presidential election. Not only can a virus or malware disrupt the use of your mobile phone, but it can also lead to fraud, identity theft, or worse.
How to Know if Your Phone is Infected
Cell phones are vulnerable to malware, which is malicious software programs that infect your phone, encrypt your data, and steal your information. There are many different types of malware that your phone can “catch.” Some just display ads called “adware.” Then there is “spyware,” where the hacker can see and record everything you are doing, including logins to your bank or credit card accounts. Then there is the worst of all, “ransomware,” where your device is encrypted, and you are locked out of all your stuff until you pay the criminals a ransom. There are also Trojans, which can also cause a lot of problems.
Some of the signs that your phone is infected with malware are:
- Your apps keep crashing, or they are slow to load. Malware can wreak havoc with your phone and cause other programs to crash.
- The phone suddenly responds much slower than normal.
- Your battery drains quicker. A malicious software uses a lot of resources, including the battery.
- The phone starts to overheat.
- You suddenly notice an increase in data usage. Malware often works in the background and takes up space, and uses resources, including data.
- You see ads popping up whenever you open the browser.
- There are apps on your phone that you didn’t install.
- You are charged for excessive use of SMS or phone calls when you didn’t make them.
How Does Your Phone Get Infected?
Both Android and iOS phones are vulnerable to malware, although not in the same ways. Android phones use software from the Google Play store, and they allow uncertified developers to post programs. This is one of the ways Android phones get infected. Phishing emails and users clicking links or visiting fake/malicious websites is another. Android also does not roll out updates very quickly or efficiently, and this puts users at risk.
Apple’s App Store only allows the installation of approved apps, which protects you against many malware programs. They also “sandbox” the apps to keep them from infecting other apps or parts of the phone. Apple updates and patches its operating system often to maintain privacy and safety precautions in place. However, if you jailbreak your iPhone and install software from outside sources, yes, you can be infected.
What Does Malware Do?
The main purpose criminals use malware is to make money. They may use ransomware to hijack your phone and make you pay a ransom to get it unlocked. They might be looking to steal your bank or credit card information to steal from you or grab your personal information for identity theft. Some variants of malware wrack up phone bills by sending fake SMS messages.
In many cases, threat actors simply steal your information and then sell it at a premium on the dark web. Information sold on the dark web is very valuable.
How to Check for Malware
The most effective way to check to see if your phone has any viruses, malware, or other malicious software running is to use a good, strong antivirus/anti-malware program. Avast and AGV are some good free programs, but if you pay for a subscription to either of those or Norton, Malwarebytes, or some other reputable software, you may get additional features and protection like phishing alerts and ransomware protection.
How to Remove Malware from Your Phone
Before using your antivirus/anti-malware software to remove the malware, shut down the phone and reboot in Safe Mode. You can do this on an Android device by powering off and choosing Safe Mode restart.
Now you can uninstall any apps that you do not recognize. If you think other apps are also infected, uninstall them as well.
Now you can run your antivirus/anti-malware software to remove any remaining artifacts or infections.
How to Protect Your Phone From Infections
Prevention is much easier than cleaning up a malware infection later. Some tips to keep your phone clean are:
- Never install apps from anywhere but the Google Play store.
- Keep your device patched with the latest security updates.
- Install a good antivirus program and run deep scans often.
- Never connect to an unsecured Wi-Fi hotspot.
- Do not click links in any email.
- Be on the lookout for phishing emails or fake websites.
- Use strong passwords on all your accounts and NEVER reuse them on multiple websites.
- Turn on phone encryption.
- Use two-factor authentication whenever available.
- Check app permissions to see what they have access to.
The best way to keep all your devices clean is to use common sense. If it sounds too good to be true, it is, so walk away.