Should You Worry About Getting a Cell Phone Virus?

You may be asking yourself, what if I have a cell phone virus and what is it anyway? You know you keep a lot of precious, valuable data on your phone, and when you hear in the news that mobile threats are on the rise, it’s easy to lose sight of the context behind the numbers and worry that you’ve gotten a dreaded mobile phone virus that’s going to steal your personal info and eat your children. Hopefully we can clarify things by addressing some of the questions that we hear most about so-called Android “viruses.”

Is there really such a thing as an Android virus?

Historically carried over from the old PC world, a “virus” is a program that replicates itself by attaching to another program. Hackers often used this method to spread their nefarious work, and virus became a popular term to refer to all types of malicious software (malware) on computers. In the case of smartphones, to date we have not seen malware that replicate itself like a PC virus can, and specifically on Android this does not exist, so technically there are no Android viruses. However, there are many other types of Android malware. Most people think of any malicious software as a virus, even though it is technically inaccurate.

So what is Android malware?

Malware, short for malicious software, is software designed to secretly control a device, steal private information or money from the device’s owner. Malware has been used to steal passwords and account numbers from mobile phones, put false charges on user accounts and even track a user’s location and activity without their knowledge. Learn about some of the most notable malware Lookout has blocked in Resources Top Threats.

How would I get malware on my phone?

Through Lookout’s research for the State of Mobile Security 2012, we’ve found that user behavior and geography greatly influence your risk of encountering malware. The safest bet is to stick with downloading well-known apps from well-known apps from reputable markets like Google Play in addition to having a security app. Fraudsters make it their job to disguise malware as innocent-looking mobile apps on app stores and websites. So if you’re thinking that it’s a good idea to download a just-published, supposedly free version of Angry Birds you found on a random Chinese app store, it’s probably not. Once installed, these apps may appear to work just as described, but they are can be busy with additional secret tasks. Some apps start out clean, but are given malicious capabilities after a seemingly routine software update.

And conscientious app downloading won’t always minimize your risk. Sneaky, drive-by-download sites can download a potentially malicious app file without any user intervention. Safe Browsing in Lookout Premium for Android will block web-based threats like that, but even so, you also shouldn’t install random downloads from your download manager that you didn’t expect to find there.

How can I protect myself and my mobile device?

It’s pretty simple to minimize the risk of encountering malware, and we’ve got 5 simple mobile security tips right here. The top two ways to protect yourself are to download a mobile security app like Lookout to catch those pesky “phone viruses” and to be judicious about what apps you download and were you download them from. Lookout will scour your phone or tablet for any existing malware, and also examine every new app you download to ensure it is safe. But even before you let Lookout scan your newly downloaded app, you should only download apps from sites you trust, check the ratings and read reviews to make sure they’re widely used and respected.

So, should you worry about getting a phone virus? Nope, because they technically don’t exist. (If they ever do crop up, Lookout will weed them out.) And should you worry about the more accurately termed malware? Well, with a little bit of awareness and Lookout on your phone and by your side, you can keep malware and other mobile threats at bay.