The rise of Google's mobile operating system, Android, has helped usher in the age of mobility, making smartphones and tablets available to the masses — instead of just being a niche product for the wealthy. This revolution has had a massive, positive impact on many people's lives, but it comes with a dark side. Android device security threats are growing in number, and those who ignore this burgeoning trend are risking their privacy, security and finances.
The Android OS is especially vulnerable to malware threats. Android malware comprised just 24 percent of all mobile malware threats in 2010, according to a recent Juniper Networks study, but now comprises a whopping 90 percent of all malware. The open nature of the platform — which allowed so many Android devices to flood the market in the first place — also makes it an ideal target for malware creators. They can get their software onto users' devices without taking care to expertly hide the malicious aspects of it.
The bulk of this malware is revenue-driven, with more than 75 percent of the malicious software being used to trick users into sending texts to premium services for a fee. According to Juniper, each attack can bring in $10 for the attacker, a hefty haul when multiplied by the millions of devices out there.
But not all malware is designed for a quick cash-grab. Some programs capture personal information, including things like banking passwords, browsing trends or geographical location. This information can be used to steal from the user directly, or to sell for a million different uses.
This may all paint a fairly scary picture of the Android OS, but using a mobile device doesn't necessarily mean you're opening yourself up to an Android security attack. By following some fairly simple steps, you can protect your device from almost malicious software, allowing you to fully experience the mobile world without putting your information at risk.
Updating your mobile security software isn't just a way to get enhanced features and better speeds, as Google and your device manufacturer pack a lot of back-end fixes into these updates. Juniper suggests that devices using the latest operating system version are immune to more than three-fourths of the malware out there, so be sure to check for updates regularly and download them when available.
The breadth of available Android apps is one of the features that draw people to the platform, and Android makes it fairly easy to install applications from sources other than the official app store. While there are some interesting apps out there that are not available through Google, this is a great way to get malware onto your device. Google scans all the apps in its official store for obvious traces of malware, and manages to stop a great deal of them from reaching consumers. Third-party app stores don't necessarily have these protections, and malware creators know this.
Most people just blindly click through the permissions section when installing a new application, but this is one way to spot potential threats. That new game you downloaded to kill some time may need access to your file system to work properly, but it certainly doesn't need access to your text messages or location. When installing an application, read through the permission section before agreeing to the app's terms, and if the app asks for permission to anything that seems odd, don't install it.
Who doesn't like free things? Free, public Wi-Fi is, in many ways, a blessing, as it provides a fast Internet connection for your device without costing a cent. But these unsecured connections could prove disastrous for your private information. It's just as easy for a hacker or thief to connect to free Wi-Fi as it is for you, and once you're both on the same network, they can easily see almost all the information you're sending to the Internet. For WiFi Security, it's best to stick with secured connections, or if possible, your device's mobile connection.
The best way to keep your Android device safe is to use dedicated security software to constantly scan your device, and to check for threats on any new apps you've installed. But even this comes with some conditions. There are plenty of free mobile antivirus offerings out there, but many of these are just Trojans or viruses in disguise. For true mobile security, stick with brand-name offerings. They may charge for their constantly updated service, but it's a small price to pay for true security. Most of these apps come with free trials, so you can try them before you make a purchase, and the best can even protect your PC, or multiple Android devices, at the same time.
The world of Android device threats may be intimidating, but much like a personal computer, being smart about using your device is the best first step in protecting yourself. For those instances where being smart isn't enough, a robust mobile security solution that stays updated with emerging mobile threats is your best bet for staying safe in a mobile world.