Smartphone security: How to protect your information

Computer viruses are increasingly common, with scammers attempting to steal your personal data through email phishing and other means. And while you may take precautions to keep your laptop safe, are you doing everything you can to keep your smartphone secure and to protect your information?

We use our phones for almost everything nowadays. These little devices store all of our personal information, such as our bank credentials and social media passwords. With so much of our private life stored on our smartphones, it’s no wonder they’re coming under attack from scams

What type of viruses could affect my smartphone?

Your smartphone is at risk of catching various forms of malware:

Ransomware 

Ransomware is a type of virus where the culprit encrypts your personal data so it’s no longer accessible. They then demand a ransom (a fee of money to be paid, anonymously, like through bitcoin) to release the files. However, even if you pay, there’s no guarantee that your files will be returned to you. 

Spyware

Spyware is a type of virus that is attached to apps. It looks legitimate, but once downloaded, it can install itself onto your phone and track your activity. This means the hacker will then have knowledge of your location, usernames and passwords for personal sites. It’s harder to know if spyware is on your phone, as they can easily go undetected as they steal your information in the background.

Trojan horse

Trojan horse viruses usually come up as text messages or software. They can intercept the content of messages, uncovering personal information, as well as send messages at a premium rate to increase your phone bill. Additionally, the cyber-criminals that are spying on your phone can also gain access to your system, deleting, blocking or changing your data. 

Trojans can come in multiple forms, all of which are capable of rendering your smartphone completely unusable after tracking and stealing all of your personal data. 

Adware

Advertisement pop-ups are common on websites, but adware is when a number of pop-ups continuously appear, almost crashing the site you’re trying to access. Whilst adware does not always pose a serious threat, it can track your activity and steal your information.

Worm

This virus is spread through text messaging. It allows the hackers behind it to load malware onto your phone, which ultimately functions to steal your personal data. 

What does a virus do to my smartphone?

If a virus finds its way into your smartphone, you are at risk of someone else stealing your private information, such as bank details (including the login and password for your online banking app), uncovering personal information about you from social media, accessing your location, and more. 

Depending on the severity of the virus, they can also completely crash your smartphone, rendering it unusable. 

How to know if my smartphone has a virus

Whilst some smartphone viruses, like spyware, can go undetected for a while, there are a few tell-tale signs that your phone might be infected with a virus.

  • Apps taking longer to load or install - malware, like trojan horses, can break down the software so that it no longer functions properly, therefore taking ages to open or not opening at all
  • Random apps showing up on your home screen - intruders can mess around with your applications, making ones you didn’t download appear, which trojans then attach to
  • Battery draining quickly - your smartphone’s battery will drain quicker than normal if there is a virus running in the background 
  • People receiving messages from you - if your contacts are receiving unusual messages, with links included, claiming to be from you, it’s a sign you’ve been hacked and the culprit is trying to hack others too
  • Excessive data usage - a virus running in the background can increase your data usage
  • Pop-ups - if you’re experiencing more pop-ups than usual, it could be a sign that adware is infecting your smartphone and trying to gain even more access to your data 
  • Overheating - viruses and malware can cause your phone to overheat because they are consuming so much energy and RAM 
  • Fraudulent phone charges - some viruses can increase your phone bill by making in-app purchases and charging you premium texts, which the hackers can then collect.

How to remove viruses from iPhone and Android

iPhone

  1. Buy and download antimalware software, which scans your smartphone for viruses, deletes the affected apps, and provides protection for the future
     
  2. Ensure all of your data is backed up
     
  3. Clear your history and data by going to Settings > Safari > Clear History and Website Data
     
  4. Restart your iPhone

If the malware is still present, you can either:

  1. Try to restore your backed-up information to a time before the virus was on your device
     
  2. Erase your phone completely by going to Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings

Android

  1. Buy and download antimalware software
     
  2. Turn off your Android phone
     
  3. Activate Safe Mode by holding the power button > tap Restart > click Reboot to Safe mode > hold the volume down button until your device pops up > click Safe mode in the lower left corner
     
  4. Change your Android’s administrators settings by going to Settings > Security > Device Administrator > Deactivate the malware’s access to reconfigure the settings
     
  5. Find and uninstall the affected app by going to Settings > Apps > App Manager > Select the infected app/s > Uninstall/Force close > Uninstall or Disable to remove from your Android 

If the malware is still present:

  1. Perform a full factory reset to completely erase and restart your Android phone

Security tips to protect your information 

Read our full in-depth guide to understanding and preventing malicious apps and viruses from taking over your devices. 

Sometimes a virus could get onto your smartphone without you even knowing or meaning to allow it, but there are a few things you can do to decrease the risk of, or fully prevent, malware from stealing your information. 

Have a strong password

Lock your smartphone with a strong and secure PIN/password. If it gets lost or stolen, it will be much harder for someone to hack into and steal your information. 

There are multiple ways you can lock your phone, which are usually fairly secure:

  1. A PIN of 6 or more digits (preferable to a 4-digit pin, or a pattern)
  2. Custom password of letters, numbers and special characters
  3. Fingerprint scanner e.g. Touch ID
  4. Face ID 

You can use a password manager to generate and store long and secure passwords.  

Only download legitimate applications

Only download well-known apps from legitimate, trustworthy web stores, like Google Play for Android and Apple Store for iOS. Avoid downloading apps from unknown websites or directly through links, as these can carry viruses. 

Be aware though that even Google Play and the Apple Store have had their share of viruses - Android’s store is more at risk as they allow many types of applications to be downloaded from their store, whereas Apple ensure they go through a security check before being made available. 

Check the reviews first and always read the App Permissions before accepting the installation, as many apps will request access to your location, camera, microphone, contacts, calendar, and more. 

Only buy phones from legitimate companies

Likewise with the applications, only purchase a smartphone from a legitimate company. Fake phones can be sold from illegitimate manufacturers, which are already preloaded with all types of malicious software. 

If you’re buying a refurbished smartphone from an online supplier, make sure you know what it’s supposed to look like when it arrives. If the interface doesn’t look like a typical iPhone or Android, immediately report or return the device without entering any personal information. 

Use secure Wi-Fi

Only connect to secure Wi-Fi networks, like at home, as open wireless networks in cafes or at train stations are often free for anyone to use. This means that someone with the necessary skills could easily infiltrate your device through the open network. 

Use your smartphone’s mobile data (like 3G and 4G) instead of connecting to an open Wi-Fi source. Need some extra data? Check out our great value bundles

Don’t open suspicious links or attachments

If you receive a text message or email that contains a hyperlink or attachment, don’t click on it unless you know it’s completely safe.

If the message has come from a familiar person, like a friend or family member, contact them directly through a different method (like a phone call) and check that it’s legitimate. 

Avoid suspicious websites

Stay away from suspicious and unsafe websites, as these will usually harbour viruses and other malicious forms. 

A good way to know if a website is secure is by looking for the padlock in the website’s URL bar (https://). If there is no padlock, chances are that the website isn’t secure, and you should exit immediately to avoid catching a virus. 

Don’t install pirate software

There are hundreds of illegal websites out there which allows users to download and watch movies for free. Not only is pirating against the law, but it’s also incredibly dangerous, as these websites can infect your phone, tablet, or laptop with a host of viruses. Many of them are also missing the secure padlock in the URL.

Download extra security 

Downloading additional security software onto your smartphone is a good way of providing extra layers of defence. There are plenty of antivirus apps you can download from the official app stores. If you’re a parent, you should consider parental control software to keep your child safe too. 
 

Follow us on Twitter for more guides, tips and tricks. 


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